Better and fairer trade agreements


Labor would sign better, fairer trade deals that give Australian workers a fair go and protect public services, while ensuring more independent scrutiny of trade deals.

Labor today introduced the Fair Go for Australians in Trade Bill 2018, which would permanently fix problems with the way the Liberals currently negotiate trade agreements.

There are two problems with the way the Liberals negotiate trade agreements – what they put in agreements and the secrecy under which they are negotiated.

Labor will fix this by prohibiting the things in trade agreements Australians don’t like and increasing independent scrutiny of trade agreements.

The Bill prohibits the Australian Government from signing agreements that:

  • Waive labour market testing
  • Include Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions
  • Require the privatisation of public services
  • Undermine the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme
  • Undermine Australia’s anti-dumping laws
  • Limit the ability of the Australian Government to regulate in the interests of public welfare or in relation to safe products
  • Undermine mandatory skills testing requirements
  • Places certain restrictions on Government procurement.

The Bill increases scrutiny of trade agreements by:

  • Requiring agreements to undergo Independent National Interest Assessments to before they are signed
  • Establishing a team of ‘Accredited Advisors’ from industry, unions and civil society who would be provided with access to the draft text after each round of negotiations.

In addition a Shorten Labor Government will also expand the role of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.

It should be involved in the development of trade agreements from start to finish not just examining them at the end.

Before any trade negotiation starts it should be consulted on the government’s Statement of Objectives for Negotiation – and given the chance to provide feedback.

It will also be briefed by DFAT after each round of negotiations on how the negotiations are going and what they are focussed on.

We will also provide public updates on each round of negotiations and release draft texts during negotiations where this is feasible.

High quality trade agreements should also lead to better working conditions and labour standards, not worse.

That’s why this Bill also requires the Australian Government to include in all bilateral trade agreements a labour chapter with internationally recognised labour principles.

The Australian Government should also seek to include a labour chapter in any regional or multilateral trade agreement it signs.

In addition a Shorten Labor Government would go back and fix the mistakes the Liberals have made in negotiating trade agreements by:

  • Establishing a dedicated team of negotiators in the department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who would be charged with removing labour market testing waivers and ISDS provisions from existing trade agreements – including the CPTPP. This team will update Accredited Advisors on the progress of these negotiations.
  • Fixing the inadequate skills assessment process – starting with a Senate Inquiry into the skilled visa system.

If the government signs any trade agreements in the next few months it is very unlikely they will come before the parliament before the next election.

That is because the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties is required to consider any trade agreement for a minimum of 20 joint sitting days before it reports and enabling legislation is introduced.

If the current government were to sign a trade agreement between now and the next election that includes clauses that are prohibited in this legislation we wouldn’t support it in the Parliament before the election and if we win the next election we will go back and renegotiate that agreement to take those clauses out before bringing any enabling legislation before the Parliament. 

Labor will be announcing other measures before the end of the year that will protect local jobs and communities from the negative impacts of agreements entered into by Liberal Governments, which will ensure temporary visas and temporary visa workers are not exploited and which will ensure Government procurement and projects support local jobs.


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