Publication of Australia-UK FTA Agreement in Principle and exclusion of ISDS welcome, but still much we don’t know

MEDIA RELEASE                                                                            

June 18, 2021

“We welcome the fact that the Australian and UK governments have responded to community concerns about secrecy and yesterday published the Agreement in-Principle (AIP) for the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement,” Dr Patricia Ranald, AFTINET Convenor, said today.

“We also welcome the fact that the AIP rules out the inclusion of corporate rights to sue governments, known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), which would have allowed British corporations to sue the Australian government in international tribunals over changes in law or policy if they could argue that such changes harmed their investment. Australians remember that the US Philip Morris tobacco company sued the Australian government for billions of dollars over our plain packaging law,” said Dr Ranald.

The exclusion of ISDS follows a trend to respond to public concerns and to exclude ISDS from recent agreements like the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the current negotiations for an Australia-European Union Free Trade Agreement.

“We have long called for full publication of negotiating texts during trade negotiations. However, we note that the AIP does not give detailed information about the up to 30 chapters which are still being negotiated behind closed doors, and the full text will not be released until after it is signed,” said Dr Ranald.

“For example, the section on intellectual property has no detail about whether the UK standard for longer medicine monopolies than Australia has will be included in the deal. Pharmaceutical companies already have 20-year monopolies on new medicines,” said Dr Ranald.

“The UK has an additional monopoly of up to 10 years for data protection before data is released for production of cheaper generic medicines. The current Australian standard is five years. The UK standard would delay the availability of cheaper medicines in Australia, costing the tax-payer funded Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme hundreds of millions of dollars per year,” said Dr Ranald.

The AIP mentions that the final text will contain ‘commitments underpinning the IP in our world-leading innovation sectors, including provisions on patents, trade secrets and test data. These provisions will not require regulatory changes and will not affect the price of medicines in either country’.

“This was same formulation used to defend the increased data protection commitments in the original Trans-Pacific Partnership which did not require new regulation, but would have had the effect of delaying the availability of cheaper medicines,” explained Dr Ranald.

“We call on the Australian government to release the full text for public scrutiny and independent assessment of its costs and benefits before it is signed, so that everyone can see what is being traded away and the government can be held accountable before the deal is done,” said Dr Ranald.