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 monopolies on patents (including medicines) and copyright which are actually the opposite of “free trade” .
April 16, 2019: A New report from UNCTAD critiques the failings of the existing multilateral order to establish a stable global economy that facilitates prosperity for all. Against the backdrop of persistent global poverty, rising inequality, the imminent climate crisis, and a global economy that remains inherently unstable 10 years after the 2008 financial crisis, the report calls for a new approach to multilateralism that is genuinely democratic and works towards the realisation of “shared prosperity and a healthy planet”.
Wednesday April 3, 2019: Over three hundred labour unions, consumer advocates and environmental organizations from all continents sent a letter on April 1, 2019, to World Trade Organization member nations expressing a "profound and urgent opposition" to talks that would establish new rules on digital trade.
April 1, 2019: The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties has produced Report 185 recommending that Australia accede to the revised WTO Procurement Agreement (GPA). There is no implementing legislation because the only required legislation for accession was the Government Procurement (Judicial Review) Act which was passed in October 2018 with other implementing legislation for the TPP 11.
Wednesday, February 27, 2019: Rich countries including Australia decided at the recent World Economic Forum meeting at Davos to push for an E-Commerce Agreement in the World Trade Organisation. Their formula is for ‘free digital trade’, for rules that suit global digital corporations – notably Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple. This push has been strongly criticised by consumer and civil society groups.
February 13, 2019: Chakravarthi Raghavan, an esteemed author of several books on the WTO, and Jomo Kwame Sundaram, former United Nations Assistant Secretary General for Economic Development, have issued a sharp warning to developing countries about the e-commerce initiative recently launched at Davos by a group of rich country governments, including Australia.
February 10, 2019: AFTINET's submission to the JSCOT Inquiry on Australia joining the WTO Government Procurement Agreement argues that the government has not presented any independent assessment of the costs and benefits of Australia joining the agreement, that would justify Australia's accession.
February 5, 2019: Chinese and US trade negotiators meet in Washington again next week to try to reach an agreement to avoid a massively escalated tariff war from March 1. Without a deal, US punitive tariffs on US$200 billion of Chinese imports will go up from 10 per cent to 25 per cent, and China is likely to respond in kind. The US is blocking appointments to the World Trade Organisation appeals body, and threatening to leave the 164-member WTO.