COVID-19 trade report recommends changes to local manufacturing, govt procurement and rights of international shipping crews

December 15, 2020: The Report of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade on the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for Australia’s foreign affairs defence and trade policies was tabled in Parliament on December 8.

AFTINET’s submission is here and several member organisations also made submissions. Despite evidence from many health organisations, there are no specific health recommendations, with health being subsumed under general recommendations about national systems to meet both pandemics and other crises.

The recommendations are heavily weighted towards defence and strategic considerations and the development of defence alliances. The report reiterated Australia’s support for current trading arrangements which are highly dependent on global supply chains. However it made a number of recommendations on trade issues which reflected some of the issues raised by AFTINET and member organisations.

The report expressed support for Australia’s involvement in multilateral institutions like the United Nations, the World Health Organisation and the World Trade Organisation, and recommended positive engagement in reform processes within these organisations.

The report also acknowledged that the pandemic has exposed overdependence on global supply chains in areas like personal protective equipment and ventilators. It recommended the development of a national resilience framework and a plan to move supply chains for critical national systems to Australian suppliers.

The report recommended targeted support for Australian industry sectors, and the intentional use of government procurement to build local industry capability. It recommended aggregation of government procurement demand across Commonwealth, State and Territory governments, and that Commonwealth departments must give a priority weighting to development of Australian industry capability.

The report also recommended changes to ensure that COVID-19-related measures imposed by States and Territories do not prevent the timely change-over of international maritime crews, a situation which has led to unsafe and unreasonable workplace conditions which breach Australia’s ILO obligations.