Free Trade negotiations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) should not proceed

January 30, 2023: The previous Coalition government initiated a scoping negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement with the UAE, comprising the following emirates: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al-Quwain, and Fujairah and Ras Al Khaimah, and with the Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Saudi Arabia and Qatar. AFTINET made a submission to the previous government in April 2022 arguing that  both negotiations should not proceed because of gross violation of human rights and labour rights in these countries.

As of January 2023, the GCC negotiations were not proceeding but scoping discussions were continuing with the UAE, and the Labor government had not yet made a decision about whether to proceed with negotiations.

AFTINET’s updated submission on the UAE made in January 2023 argues that negotiations should not proceed because of the UAE’s gross violations of human rights and labour rights.

The Labor government has a policy of upholding human rights and requiring enforceable labour rights in trade agreements. Granting preferential trading rights beyond existing WTO rules to the UAE would legitimise violations of human rights and labour rights in the UAE, which are subject to consistent criticisms and investigations, documented by both the UN and human rights organisations.

The UAE is not a signatory to key UN and ILO human rights and labour rights conventions. There is no commitment to civil and political rights, and discriminatory legislation against women remains. Migrant workers form more than 90 % of the workforce in the UAE and are subjected to the kafala bonded labour system, under which they are tied to one employer with no effective rights, leading to systemic exploitation, discrimination and modern slavery. Women domestic workers experience sexual abuse and trafficking under the kafala system. The submission argues that, given these gross violation of human rights and labour rights, negotiations with the UAE should not proceed.