Australian Associated Press | 13 May 2021
Unions want major Asia trade deal scrapped
by Matt Coughlan
Unions have blasted Australia’s plan to sign a massive free trade deal with Asia-Pacific nations over the inclusion of military junta-controlled Myanmar.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions is urging the Morrison government to refuse to sign the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
The world’s biggest trade agreement includes Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Brunei - along with Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.
But with Myanmar also involved, ACTU president Michele O’Neil is calling on the government to abandon support for the deal.
"It is appalling that the Morrison government is planning to sign the RCEP agreement which will streamline trade with Myanmar - therefore financing and legitimising the military dictatorship," she said on Thursday.
"Over 780 civilians have been killed by the military junta in Myanmar thus far. For the Australian government to even consider signing a trade agreement with them is unacceptable."
The military seized power more than 100 days ago in a violent crackdown which has received widespread condemnation.
Ms O’Neil labelled the federal government weak in its response to the violence.
"They should be following the USA, UK and other democratic countries and suspending all ties with Myanmar," she said.
In a submission to a parliamentary inquiry scrutinising the deal, the ACTU also warns about the use of child and forced labour in Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Korea, Laos, the Philippines, and Thailand.
"Australian companies doing the right thing risk being undercut on labour costs by companies that use forced or child labour and repress union organising activity," it says.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry told the inquiry RCEP was an important vehicle to improve Australia’s position and break down trade barriers.
ACCI wants the government to review the value of maintaining bilateral trade agreements with nations involved in wider deals.
National Farmers’ Federation chief executive Tony Mahar said the agriculture sector was hopeful India would join RCEP, noting agreements with many of the other nations were already in place.
RCEP covers 2.2 billion people and 29 per cent of global economic output.
New Zealand’s union movement has urged the Ardern Labour government not to ratify the agreement.