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. 

Why Trade Policy Should Matter In The Election – Australian Outlook

18 May, 2022: AFTINET Convenor, Dr Patricia Ranald, has written a critical analysis in the Australian Outlook of the party policies on trade during the 2022 federal election.

Dr Ranald writes: “Trade policies are being ignored in the 2022 election debate. The pandemic has exposed the impact of trade policy on individual lives, and the differences between the parties’ platforms deserve critical scrutiny."

“A new government must be held accountable for a greater level of transparency and independent assessments of trade deals, and for the inclusion of labour rights and environmental standards in such deals. This must include the critical scrutiny and amendment of the UK and India deals, and halting negotiations with the UAE and the GCC.”

Trade justice election forum: Can trade support the COVID recovery and help reduce carbon emissions?

May 17, 2022: In our election forum on trade justice, we introduced our scorecard on the track record of political parties on trade justice. Speakers examined how trade deals can help or hinder the next government in recovering from the COVID19 pandemic and decarbonising the economy.

You can watch the recording here.

Topics included: the parties’ trade track record and the need for trade transparency; the need to waive World Trade Organisation (WTO) monopoly rules on COVID-19 vaccines and treatments to ensure access for low-income countries; and the need for enforceable commitments to labour rights and environmental standards, including carbon emissions targets, in trade deals.

Our speakers:

Dr Patricia Ranald, AFTINET Convener and Honorary Research Associate, Sydney University

Inform your vote with our Trade Justice Policy Election Scorecard

April 26, 2022: As voters, we deserve to know where Australia’s parties and politicians stand on issues of trade justice – because how our parliamentary representatives vote on trade can have major impacts on human rights, workers’ rights, and environmental sustainability.

To help our members and supporters understand the policy differences between the parties, we’ve prepared our 2022 Trade Justice Policy Scorecard.

AFTINET submission to the parliamentary committee review of the trade agreement process seeks change

August 3, 2020: The AFTINET submission to the Joint standing Committee on Treaties review is here, with a summary below.

Trade agreements are legally binding, with dispute processes that can result in trade penalties, and are difficult to revoke. They have commitments not only on tariffs, but on laws and policy that should normally be decided through open democratic parliamentary processes, including investor rights to sue governments, and essential services like medicines, energy, water, and on digital trade, temporary workers, local industry policy, government procurement and product standards. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed flaws in trade policy including over-dependence on imports of essential health products and lack of local manufacturing capacity.

Parliamentary inquiry into the trade agreement process

July 8, 2020: This inquiry by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties is the result of negotiations between the ALP and the government about passing the enabling legislation for the Indonesia FTA.

The terms of reference are broad enough for a public debate about the secrecy of trade negotiations, the lack of independent assessment of trade deals and the need for change. 

The Committee invites submissions addressing the terms of reference for the inquiry by Friday, 31 July 2020 to

Terms of Reference

Secrecy of negotiations

The Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations have been widely criticised for their secrecy. Under the current process,  the details of the deal were kept secret until after the text was agreed, and Cabinet, not Parliament makes the decision to sign the agreement. Parliament does not get to vote on the whole text,  only on the implementing legislation.

For more information, see our explanation of the Australian process for trade agreements, and the Report of the Senate Inquiry into the trade agreement process, aptly called Blind Agreement.


Last updated: Nov 2014

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