In 2015, the Australian government began negotiations to join the WTO Government Procurement Agreement. Only 45 of the 164 WTO members have joined, because most governments want to keep the ability to use government procurement to develop local industries like the steel industry . Read AFTINET's submission here.
World Trade Organisation
The World Trade Organisation (WTO) founded in 1995 aims to increase international trade in goods, services and agriculture through multilateral negotiations. It also serves to enforce adherence to WTO agreements through its dispute resolution process.
The failure of the WTO to deliver meaningful outcomes for poorer countries, along with its fundamentalist neoliberal agenda has led to stalled negotiations and dashed hopes of a functioning multilateral trade system, let alone a fair one.
From 1995 the WTO had agreements on goods, services, agriculture, intellectual property, and other issues. But over the last decade the WTO has stalled on new agreements, with only one agreement reached between all its members: the 2013 “Bali Package” on trade facilitation, which had a tiny scope compared with previous meetings and overall WTO objectives. The WTO has focussed instead on negotiating smaller agreements involving fewer countries.
The result of the WTO’s shortcomings has been an increasing number of bilateral and regional free trade agreements being negotiated outside the WTO framework. These include the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), and the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA)
These deals have generally left out the poorest countries and pushed a more “ambitious” corporate agenda, including chapters which are not about traditional trade issues at all – such as increased investor rights, greater restrictions on government regulation and stronger intellectual property provisions which are actually the opposite of “free trade” since they promote stronger monopolies.
August 14, 2017: Media Release: “Trade Minister Ciobo is wrong to suggest that the Queensland government procurement policy to give preference to small local suppliers contradicts Australia’s current trade agreements. All of these agreements have exceptions which allow some preference to small and medium-sized enterprises. South Australia and Victoria have similar policies, as do Australia’s trading partners like the US and South Korea,” AFTINET Convenor Dr Patricia Ranald said today.
August 7, 2017. Media Release: “The Australian Fair Trade network of community groups condemns the attempt by the Coalition government to rush through implementing legislation for the WTO Government Procurement Agreement before the negotiations are even finished. This is like signing a blank cheque before the parliament knows the outcome of the negotiations and makes a mockery of the parliamentary process. The Parliament has never before passed implementing legislation for an unseen agreement,” AFTINET Convenor Dr Patricia Ranald said today.
July 12, 2017: US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has told the US Senate Finance Committee on June 21 that he is working to advance each point of President Trump’s trade policy agenda, which includes promoting U.S. sovereignty, enforcing U.S. trade laws, leveraging American economic strength, protecting U.S. intellectual property rights, and reducing America’s persistent trade deficit.
June 30, 2017: The Joint Select Committee on Government Procurement has recommended that the Commonwealth Procurement Rules should be clarified and strengthened to encourage Australian suppliers. To ensure this, the Australian Government must not enter into trade agreements which could undermine these benefits to local industry and employment.
Governments should be able to use procurement policies to encourage industry development and local employment. Negotiations for current and future trade agreements should ensure that trade agreement provisions do not prevent procurement policies from meeting these goals.
Read AFTINET's Submission to the Joint Select Committee on Government Procurement (March 2017).
Media Release, June 2, 2016: “Buried deep in the Australia Institute’s report released today, called Manufacturing Still Matters, is a blistering critique of trade deals that weaken governments’ ability to use their own purchasing power to support local industry,” Dr Patricia Ranald, C
December 23, 2015: Positive outcomes of the WTO Ministerial meeting include some restraints on some, but not all, unfair agricultural export subsidies used by the US and EU, the exclusion of pro-corporate investment issues, and the retention of some development issues in future negotiations. But the WTO needs big changes to address the growing gap between rich and poor countries, See analysis by Deborah James, UN expert Alfred de Zayas, and Oxfam.
December 14, 2015: Over 450 civil society organizations from over 150 countries have signed a letter to WTO member governments ahead of the 10th WTO Ministerial Meeting in Nairobi. The letter asks them to change existing WTO rules to make the global trading system more compatible with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and to keep the Doha development agenda, not replace it with “new issues” that would constrain development and public interest policies.