In the interests of ensuring future trade agreements provide an economic benefit to Australians, Labor has called on the Government to implement all five recommendations of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) inquiry into Australia’s treaty-making processes as a matter of urgency.
The JSCOT inquiry, initiated in 2020, investigated the often-opaque processes by which the Government has struck trade deals with overseas nations.
The inquiry report, released on Thursday, set out a suite of recommendations aimed at expanding consultation, improving transparency and allowing for independent modelling of potential treaty benefits to be incorporated into Australia’s treaty-making processes.
This inquiry only happened because Labor called for it during the negotiations for the Indonesia-Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.
This report has been a long time coming. I called for this JSCOT inquiry as early as October 2019. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Marise Payne, only agreed the referral to the Committee in May last year.
Specifically, today’s JSCOT report recommends that:
- Minor treaty action documents are made publicly available by uploading them onto the JSCOT webpage;
- The Government publish negotiation aims and objectives for all future trade treaty negotiations;
- Biannual Government briefings to the JSCOT on the status of current and upcoming free trade agreement negotiations;
- The Government consider the use of non-disclosure agreements to expand consultations while keeping commercial information in confidence; and
- Independent modelling be incorporated into trade treaty considerations, including being provided to JSCOT.
As Labor JSCOT committee members noted in their additional comments to the report:
"There is no question that Australia’s trade agreement-making process can and should be better in these ways. That is the consensus view of the JSCOT, which proceeds from the strongly aligned evidence received in submissions and in hearings."
The report stems from a number of new free trade agreements, including with Indonesia, Hong Kong and Peru, and follows discussions on the transparency of negotiations in relation to the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership. There was criticism at that time that the Government entered into free trade agreements without adequate consultation, economic modelling or transparency.
It is the first ‘general topic’ inquiry of the JSCOT since the commencement of the 45th Parliament in July 2016.
Labor MPs on the JSCOT committee were instrumental in ensuring these recommendations were included in the report and I thank them for their hard work.
I also thank the ACTU, AFTINET and other Australian civil society organisations for their commitment to trade transparency over many years.