Possible FTA with Hong Kong

26 April 2017: The Australian Government is currently considering a free trade agreement with Hong Kong.

At this stage, the Government has put out a press release signalling their intention and is currently inviting public submissions.

From a human rights and environmental sustainability perspective, potential concerns include:

  • Investor-state dispute settlement: ISDS gives special rights for foreign corporations to sue governments, including over health, environment and other public interest laws.
  • intellectual property: some recent trade agreements have strengthened monopoly rights of pharmaceutical companies to delay cheaper forms of medicines and the rights of copyright holders (mainly global corporations) at the expense of consumers.
  • Trade in services: this could include restrictions on the ability of governments to regulate services in the public interest, including essential services like healthcare and education.
  • Government procurement: governments should retain some policy flexibility to encourage local industry development and employment.
  • Movement of temporary workers: temporary worker arrangements should never be included in trade agreements because this limits the ability of governments to adjust their policies to ensure workers are not exploited.

Australia has a bilateral investment treaty with Hong Kong (1993), which includes ISDS. This is the treaty that Philip Morris tried to use to sue the Australian Government over the cigarette plain packaging laws. A more comprehensive FTA with Hong Kong could override this older investment agreement.