Decoding the rhetoric about trade with the UK

20 September 2016: Trade Minister Steve Ciobo was in London recently talking up a post-brexit free trade deal with the UK.

In a recent opinion piece he penned for The Australian, he said a ‘bilateral Trade Working Group’ will begin to scope the parameters of an Australia-UK free trade agreement. He said both Malcolm Turnbull and Theresa May want to see a deal in place soon after Britain leaves the EU.

The UK is not in a position to negotiate until after it leaves the EU – which could be a long way off. Ciobo stressed that in the meantime negotiations will continue towards a free trade agreement with the EU.

The media attention resulting from Ciobo’s European trip has been an opportunity for the Government to sell its free trade mantra in a political climate where minor parties and independents are increasingly more cautious and sceptical towards trade deals, which are seen to have had negative impacts without bringing the purported economic benefits. Even a group of leading neoliberal economists recently accused the Government of overstating the benefits of recent trade deals.

However, despite grabbing headlines with its pro-free trade rhetoric, the Government has again failed to engage in any real discussion of the importance of the quality of trade agreements or how to manage the broad-ranging impacts they can have on the Australian community.

Unfortunately, in recent years we have seen the rise of free trade deals like the TPP which are mainly about giving extra monopolies and greater rights to corporations rather than traditional imports and exports. We are concerned that with conservative governments here and in the UK there will be a push to include investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) in any agreement with Britain.