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In the last two years the Australian Government has finalised bilateral trade agreements with China, Korea and Japan, which are now in force. The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement between 12 Pacific Rim countries has been agreed, but is being reviewed by a Parliamentary committees before Parliament votes on the implementing legislation. The TPP will not come into force until six of the 12 countries including the US and Japan pass the implementing legislation, which is expected to take two years.

The current conservative Coalition government has agreed to include Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions in the Korea and China bilateral FTAs as well as the TPP. ISDS allows foreign companies to bypass national courts and sue governments for compensation if they can argue that a change in law or policy harms their investment. The previous Labor government had a policy against ISDS, and even a previous Coalition government did not include ISDS in the Australia-US free trade agreement in 2004.

There is widespread opposition in the Australian community to the inclusion of ISDS in the TPP. The TPP is also controversial because it extends monopoly rights on expensive life-saving biologic medicines, which will mean more years of very high prices before cheaper versions become available. There are also grave concerns about its impacts on food labelling standards and expanded access for temporary workers without additional protection of workers’ rights. A recent World Bank study found that Australia was only likely to gain almost no economic benefit from the deal.

Australia is currently involved in multilateral negotiations towards the PACER-plus agreement with New Zealand and 14 Pacific Island countries, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and the Trade In Services Agreement (TISA). It is also negotiating bilateral trade agreements with India and Indonesia and will begin talks with Hong Kong and Taiwan later this year and the EU next year.

Contributed by AFTINET

last update: May 2016

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