Clive Palmer uses Singapore free trade agreement to revive ISDS claim against Australia

Monday, October 31, 2022: Australian mining magnate and political player Clive Palmer has used his Singapore company, Zeph Investments, to notify the Australian government on October 20, 2022, of its intention to seek compensation over a legal dispute with the WA government about its proposed Balmoral South iron ore project in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

Singapore trade agreement amendments: submissions needed

3 May 2017: Amendments to the 2003 Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement were tabled in Parliament  on March 20 and are being reviewed by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. The problem with the amendments is that they largely reflect the text of the TPP.

For example, they include more extensive services and investment commitments, commitments to Increased numbers of temporary workers and to remove labour market testing for temporary workers, and more commitments on state government procurement.  The original agreement included a version of ISDS which has been updated and has more exceptions, but still contains many of the weaknesses of the TPP version. See the AFTINET submission here.

Fast-tracked Singapore digital deregulation agreement completed, but text will be secret until after signing

March 30, 2020: Australia and Singapore concluded the text of a Digital Economy Agreement (DEA) on March 23. There is a summary on the DFAT website but the full text will not be released until after it has been legally checked and signed, which could take at least 1-2 months.

The agreement will replace the e-commerce chapter in the Singapore-Australia FTA.

These negotiations only started in October last year and have been concluded very quickly and secretly. We referred to them in our February submission on the WTO plurilateral e-commerce negotiations which is here.

4-Corners program on the dominance of Amazon raises more doubt on e-commerce trade deals

April 7, 2020: The ABC TV 4-Corners program on April 6, 2020, Amazon: What They Know About Us focused on the impact of Amazon Marketplace and the use of data to create a powerful global monopoly.

4-Corners was re-broadcasting a BBC Panorama program screened in the UK on February 17, 2020.

The program showed how Amazon home devices that listen and respond to questions (Alexa) can now record private conversations. These can be used as a stream of personal data to be analysed and sold for marketing even more products at individuals. In addition to privacy breaches and abuse of data the program also exposed very serious anti-competitive practices, which have enabled the company achieve a near-monopoly market dominance in marketing many products.

Australia’s COVID-19 tracing app has privacy rules that Australia rejected in the draft Digital Economy Agreement with Singapore

April 30, 2020: Australia’s Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has issued a directive about the new COVID-19 tracing app to reassure users that their privacy will be protected, and their data will not be abused.

The government claims that the Biosecurity (Human Biosecurity Emergency) Determination 2020, Section 7 states that the data must be stored in Australia.

The government has also promised to reveal the source code for the tracing app, so that it could be examined by IT privacy experts, but this has been delayed for two weeks.

EU Court decision that US does not meet data privacy standards could challenge data deregulation through trade deals

July 20, 2020: The Court of Justice of the European Union ruled on July 16 that EU data agencies must suspend data transfers to any country where the EU standards for data privacy cannot be met. It ruled that one particular arrangement, the US Privacy Shield, failed to meet the standards, and this has a direct impact on Facebook.

The ruling also may also have implications for digital trade chapters in trade agreements like the Australia-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement and current WTO negotiations, which propose deregulation of data flows across borders without adequate privacy safeguards. See AFTINET’s submission on these issues here.

Singapore digital trade signed and text released: Big Tech deregulation agenda

August 10, 2020: The Australia-Singapore digital economy text was signed last week and the text is available here. Australia announced the conclusion of negotiations in March but as usual the text has only been released after signing.

The agreement was negotiated behind closed doors in record time between October 2019 and March 2020. The government claims it “breaks new ground” and goes further than the CPTPP and other agreements on deregulating cross-border data flows and preventing access to source code by government regulators.

AFTINET submission on Singapore Digital Agreement will assess protection of privacy and other public interest regulation

August 25, 2020: The Australia-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement was signed on August 6 and the text was tabled in Parliament on August 24, which triggers an inquiry by the joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT).

The JSCOT inquiry is calling for submissions by September 18. The text and National Impact Analysis by DFAT are here.

Palmer threatens to use foreign investor rights to sue the Australian government after moving assets to Singapore

August 26, 2020: The Melbourne Age has reported that Clive Palmer’s Singapore-based company, established in 2019, could use foreign investor rights in the Singapore-Australia free trade agreement to claim billions in compensation because the WA government passed legislation terminating a legal dispute over an iron ore project, which had been running since 2012.

Palmer had attempted to claim billions in compensation from the WA government in the WA legal system.

AFTINET's submission to the JSCOT review of the Singapore Digital Economy agreement

September 18, 2020: AFTINET's submission to the JSCOT review of the Singapore Digital Economy agreement is here. The submission notes that this is the most deregulatory agreement on digital trade the Australia has signed, and it is not clear that the exceptions preserve enough regulatory space to protect consumers and the public interest in a rapidly changing digital environment.   

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