United Kingdom-Australia Free Trade Agreement
The initial AFTINET submission is here.
Australia was seeking more market access for its agricultural and services exports. and the danger was that longer medicine monopolies or other negative deregulatory concessions may be traded off to gain these. The UK is also seeking to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (CPTPP) which is being used as a model by both governments, and includes Investor rights to sue governments (ISDS). In June 2O21 the two governments announced an agreement in principle and confirmed that ISDS has been excluded from the UKFTA. This was a victory for community campaigning. We are continuing to advocate that, when the UK joins the CPTPP, Australia and the UK should exchange side-letters confirming that ISDS will not apply between them.. Australia has a similar CPTPP side-letter with New Zealand.
The full text was not released until after it was signed on December 17, 2021.
AFTINET's initial media release after the text was released called for an independent assessment for the costs and benefits of the economic, environmental, health and gender impacts of the agreement,
AFTINET analysed the 32 chapters and of the text and made a submission to the review by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.
Enabling legislation for the Australia-UK FTA (AUKFTA) was tabled in parliament on October 27 and was passed on November 22. The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) Report on the AUKFTA was tabled on November 17, leaving little time for it to be considered by parliament. The government made statements urging the quick passage of the legislation. The report recommended in favour of the enabling legislation, but they reflected some of AFTINET’s concerns.
Our preference was for these issues to be addressed before the enabling legislation, but failing this we have asked the government to address these issues in the reviews of some parts of the AUKFTA which are scheduled in the next two years.
The agreement was negotiated by the previous Coalition government. The JSCOT report reflected our concerns that there was no access to the text before it was signed, there was little consultation with unions and community organisations, and there has been no independent evaluation of the costs and benefits of the agreements.
AFTINET welcomes the recommendation that for future agreements the Australian government implement the previous JSCOT Report 193 of 2021 for greater consultation and transparency about texts during future negotiations and for independent modelling and analysis of the costs and benefits of trade agreements (JSCOT Report 201 p. 221 and JSCOT Report 202 p. 164).
AFTINET recommendations on the Australia-UK FTA (AUKFTA)
- The government should use the review of the temporary labour provisions in the next two years (MOU on temporary workers, page 4 paragraph 22) to restore labour market testing and review the other provisions on temporary workers to ensure they are consistent with the goals of increasing local skill development, employment of local workers and supporting the permanent migration program.
- The government should review whether the additional government procurement commitments are consistent with the use of government procurement to support the government’s local skills training and industry development policies, and should not proceed with proposed future negotiations on local government procurement.
- The government should not proceed with negotiations foreshadowed in article 13.13.9 to remove the exception which allows state government to require foreign investors to use local technology, to locate regional world headquarters locally, to conduct research and development locally, and to regulate royalty payments.
- The government should review and remove Annex 8B which qualifies the exception for cabotage. Cabotage requires Australian-flagged and crewed ships for transport of goods between domestic ports and is usually completely exempted from trade rules. Annex 8B could be an obstacle for government policy to strengthen an Australian-based shipping fleet.
- AFTINET welcomes chapters that commit governments to implement ILO and UN standards on labour rights and environmental standards, (although they are less enforceable than other chapters in the agreement), and chapters on gender equality and animal rights, but the latter are aspirational only and have no enforcement provisions at all. While there are some provisions on Indigenous people, there is no chapter on the rights of Indigenous Peoples as defined in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The government should use the review processes for these chapters to propose a chapter on Indigenous rights based on the UN Declaration and to ensure that all these chapters are fully enforceable in the same way as other chapters in the agreement.
The A-UKFTA has been debated in the UK House of Commons but is till being considered by the House of Lords, so has not yet been ratified or entered into force. UK farmers and environmentalists have criticised the impacts of Australian beef and lamb imports on farmers' incomes, rates of land clearing in some regions and animal welfare standards and use of pesticides in Australian agriculture.
Updated January 2023