Australian Legal Experts Call for Swift Removal of ISDS

11 July 2024: 62 Australian lawyers and legal scholars have issued an open letter urging the Australian government to swiftly implement its policy of excluding Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions from current and future trade and investment agreements. 

The letter underscores current ISDS challenges, including multi-billion-dollar claims against Australia by figures such as Clive Palmer, undermining domestic laws protecting human rights and environmental standards, potentially impeding urgent climate action and the green energy transition.

UAE Trade Pact Undermines Australian Policy on Human Rights and Environment

July 10, 2024, AFTINET Media Release

A group of eight national organisations representing millions of Australians have issued a warning to the Trade Minister that a trade pact with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) contradicts government policy on labour rights and the environment.

The group comprises the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET), Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), Amnesty International Australia, ActionAid Australia, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Office of Justice Ecology and Peace, Family Planning Alliance Australia (FPAA) and the Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania.

EU exit from the Energy Charter Treaty shows need for global government action to end corporate rights to sue governments

June 28, 2024: Rachel Thrasher and Kyla Tienhaara report that the 27-member EU has taken the final step to leave the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT). Signed in 1994 by European and some Central Asian countries and Japan, the ECT was intended to encourage investment in energy but also contained Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) rules. These rules are found in some but not all trade and investment agreements.  They give special legal rights to international investors to claim billions in compensation if they can argue that a change in law or policy will reduce their future profits. Although ISDS has never been included in World Trade Organisation trade agreements, there are thousands of bilateral investment treaties and some regional trade agreements containing ISDS.

Open letter from experts supports Australian government action on value-added industries

June 5, 2024: An open letter signed by 73 academics, researchers and policy experts has supported the government’s Future Made in Australia policy for the development of value-added industries as an important change in direction from past neoliberal trade policies which prioritised exports of unprocessed minerals and agricultural products, leading to the decline of value-added manufacturing industries.

The letter defends this policy change from criticisms by neoliberal economists “trying to defend outdated laissez-faire thinking,” including trade policy which advocated that each country should specialise only in its most globally competitive exports and have no local policies for industry development and diversification.

Global trade system fails Australia on medicines, need for local production capacity

May 27, 2024: Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) lists 423 medicines in short supply to the Australian people. Twenty of these are at critically low levels, including medicines such as blood thinners, antibiotics and menopause hormone replacement therapy (HRT) patches.

These shortages were apparent before the COVID-19 pandemic but it was the pandemic which provoked some serious discussion.

In July 2023 a Medicines Supply Security Guarantee was introduced by the Labor government which required manufacturers to keep at least four or six months supply in Australia for key medicines, but apparently this is not being enforced. 

Calls for greater transparency at government inquiry on trade

13 November, 2023: In comments made to the Canberra Times, the Australian Council of Trade Union (ACTU) criticised Australia’s current system for negotiating trade deals, calling for greater transparency, scrutiny and consultation with trade unions.

These comments echo widespread criticism of the level of transparency in submissions from AFTINET, civil society and some industry groups in the recent Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth (JSCOT) inquiry into the Australian Government’s approach to negotiating trade and investment agreements.

AFTINET submission to the inquiry on the government’s trade policy approach

September 28, 2023: The Joint Standing Committee on Trade Investment and Growth is conducting this enquiry at the request of the Trade Minister. AFTINET’s submission argues that the trade negotiating framework should be consistent with the government’s whole-of-government policies for equitable and environmentally sustainable economic development, including strategic industry development and development of renewable energy industries and other policies to meet carbon emissions reduction targets and other green economy goals. 

JSCOT Inquiry into the trade agreement process recommends small changes, Labor and Greens support more

August 26, 2021: The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) has finally released its Report 193 on the trade agreement process in Australia, 12 months after public hearings were completed. There has been no official explanation of this long delay. It may be that the government, with the controlling majority on the committee, did not want to release the report, which recommends some changes to the process, while reviews of other trade agreements like the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) were underway. 

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