Greens propose further review of Australia - Hong Kong FTA but no support from major parties

September 7, 2020: The Australian Greens have called for the Australia – Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement, which came into force on January 17, 2020, to be reviewed by a Senate Committee following the imposition by the central government in Beijing of the National Security Law, but the government and the Labor Opposition blocked the move.

On September 1, 2020, WA Senator Jordan Steele-John asked that the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee to reassess the A-HKFTA, with particular reference to:

(a) the appropriateness of the A-HKFTA given the passage and imposition of China's national security law in Hong Kong;

(b) whether Hong Kong still enjoys the high degree of autonomy valued by Australia through the 'One Country, Two Systems' framework;

(c) ongoing human rights abuses and repression in Hong Kong; and

(d) any other related matters. (Senate Hansard, Sept 1, 2020, p70)

AFTINET had argued in 2019 that the FTA should not be ratified because of repression of democracy advocates and trade unionists who opposed the extradition law from June 2019. The Australian Council of Trade Unions argued in similar terms, calling for delay until the extradition law issue was resolved.

However, the government insisted that the implementation of the FTA would, in fact, strengthen Hong Kong's autonomous status within the one country, two systems framework. “If you now navigate to the FTA section of the DFAT home page, the government still confidently tells browsers that the deal: …reaffirms the value Australia places on the high degree of autonomy enjoyed by Hong Kong through the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ framework,” Senator Steel-Johns told the Senate last week.

In reply, Senator Don Farrell said, “Labor is deeply dismayed about the Chinese government's imposition of national security legislation in Hong Kong which directly undermines the one country, two systems arrangement. This legislation has curtailed the city's rights and freedoms”. However Labor joined with the government in voting down the Greens proposal, to give “certainty” to businesses trading into Hong Kong.