AFTINET calls for more transparent trade process– Conversation article ahead of public hearing

August 17, 2020: Dr Patricia Ranald’s Conversation article today argues for an end to secrecy and a more open and democratically accountable trade process. AFTINET will give evidence on August 24 to a Joint Standing Committee on Treaties hearing into the trade agreement process.

In current negotiations for a European Union – Australia Free Trade Agreement, Australians know that the EU is demanding longer medicine monopolies only because the EU publishes its negotiating texts. The Australian government does not, so we don’t know their response.

The controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Australia ratified in 2018, covers the regulation of essential services such as medicines, education, aged care, childcare, energy, financial and digital services, as well as foreign investment, labour and environment regulations and government procurement and product standards. These should all be decided by parliament, but are kept secret, even from parliament, until after the agreement is signed and so cannot be changed.

AFTINET proposes that the JSCOT recommend:

  • that government table in parliament a document setting out its priorities and objectives at the start of each negotiation.
  • the release of negotiating texts, and the release of the final text of agreements before they are signed.
  • an independent analysis of the costs and benefits of proposed agreements both before signing, and also some years after signing to get an idea of whether they have lived up to their promise.
  • evaluation of the health, environment and gender impacts, as well as the economic impacts.
  • that the parliament rather than the executive be given the role of agreeing to whole treaties, something legal experts say would permitted by the Constitution.