Sustainability focus in updated trade agreement

Cargo ship at sea. | Newsreel
An updated trade agreement with southeast Asian countries will focus on sustainability and equality. | Photo: Suriyapong Thongsawanh (iStock)

An updated trading agreement with our southeast Asian neighbours will include enhanced obligations around sustainability and equality.

The Federal Parliament Joint Standing Committee on Treaties has tabled a report recommending amendments to the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA).

The report states that in public hearings issues were raised around trade matters that impacted sustainable development, micro-small and medium enterprises and the interests of First Nations people.

Concerns were also raised about the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) and the report noted “Australia successfully negotiated a review of the existing ISDS provisions”.

Committee chair Josh Wilson said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was Australia’s second largest trading partner with two-way trade totalling $178 billion, with AANZFTA ASEAN’s highest quality free trade agreement in terms of market access for goods trade.

Mr Wilson said this “Second Protocol” built on the original AANZFTA agreement signed in February, 2009 and provided broader coverage through new provisions on services and investments, new digital trade data rules, and first-time cooperation in the areas of environment, labour rights, and women’s economic empowerment.

“ASEAN’s strong economic growth is set to continue and in implementing the Second Protocol, Australia will expand economic opportunities and integration with this important region.” he said.

“Through stronger investment protection and commitments to specific sectors, this protocol increases assurance for Australian investors and with improvements with respect to inclusive and sustainable trade, creates new commercial opportunities and establishes new shared wellbeing norms that will benefit Australia.”

Mr Wilson said that during public hearings concerns were raised regarding investor-state dispute settlement provisions in the AANZFTA and their ability to impinge upon national sovereignty.

“Significantly, Australia negotiated a review of ISDS provisions as part of the Second Protocol. The Committee will maintain a close interest in the review and will seek an update on the government’s review work program in due course,” he said.