New government white paper a missed opportunity

November 27, 2017: The Australian Foreign Policy White Paper misses the opportunity to support a more democratic trade process and to address concerns from many community organisations about the use of secretive trade deals for domestic policy decisions. Trade deals should be subject to open democratic parliamentary processes.

The White Paper deals with trade as part of a broader analysis which includes defence and security, in the context of the US Trump administration, US-China rivalry and the rapid growth of China, India, Indonesia and other ASEAN countries.

The paper stresses the need to resist protectionism and support global free trade including multilateral negotiations through the World Trade Organisation, but criticises the WTO’s slow and uncertain progress. It supports plurilateral agreements like the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), regional agreements like the TPP and RCEP, Australia’s existing nine bilateral agreements, and new bilateral agreements being negotiated with countries like Indonesia and Peru.

As we argued in our submission to the White Paper process, AFTINET rejects both the aggressive nationalism of the Trump administration, and neoliberal trade policies that have not delivered on exaggerated promises of employment growth. We support expansion of trade under fair global rules to improve peoples’ lives.  But we do not support the use of trade agreements to reduce public interest regulation or to expand medicine monopolies, as exemplified by the TPP.

The White paper reinforces a TPP-like trade agenda that includes stronger medicine monopolies and movement of temporary workers. It supports the reduction of ‘trade barriers’ like bio security, environmental regulation, labelling standards and ‘regulatory burdens’ for services. It supports investment rules to reduce ‘regulatory risk’ for investors, which appears to be code for foreign investor rights to sue governments (ISDS) (pages 59-60).  It also defends the existing trade agreement process as ‘consultative’ (page 51), despite the critical Senate inquiry report aptly called Blind Agreement.

Tony Milne from the Campaign for Australian Aid argues that the paper “desperately clings to the past while the rest of the world moves on.” The Campaign for Australian aid’s “People’s White Paper”, One Humanity, urges the Australian government to reverse the deep cuts to its aid budget and include climate change, poverty and inequality as core foreign policy priorities. Although the government’s white paper acknowledges that climate change is a global threat, it does not emphasise combatting climate change or reducing inequality as key priorities.

In short, we need foreign policy and trade policy based on human rights, labour rights and environmental sustainability.