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Parliamentary Report Recommends Increased Transparency In Trade Agreement Processes, But More Remains To Be Done

“AFTINET welcomes the main conclusions of the Interim Report of the Parliamentary Inquiry into the government’s approach to negotiating trade agreements that the process should be more transparent for stakeholders, parliament and the public,” ” Dr Patricia Ranald, AFTINET Convener, said today.

“However the actual recommendations of the interim report are limited and we hope the planned full report will address the full terms of reference, with more recommendations on transparency and a legislated framework for the content of trade agreements.”

The report explains that the current process is that the text of trade agreements remains secret until after they are signed, the Parliamentary review of them cannot change the text, and that Parliament does not vote on the whole agreement but only the enabling legislation, if such legislation is required.

Trade agreements deal not only with tariff reductions but with other many issues which affect people’s lives, including corporate rights to sue governments, medicine prices, labour rights and environmental regulation, which would normally be decided by Parliament. Many submissions to the enquiry from civil society and unions criticised this process and argued for a more transparent process, citing examples from the US and the EU.

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“The recommendation to legislate for a ‘cleared advisor’ system for business, civil society and union representatives to have access to negotiating text, based on the US model, is a step forward,” said Dr Ranald. “However the US system is limited by confidentiality requirements, is dominated by business representatives and does not provide information to the public.”

“We welcome recommendations for public information about the government’s approach to be equivalent to the information provided by the other parties in the negotiations. In the case of the EU for example, this would mean publication of Australia’s objectives and initial negotiating proposals, and publication of the text before it is signed, “said Dr Ranald. “However we would prefer such a system to apply to all negotiations.”

“We also welcome recommendations for briefing the relevant parliamentary committees and for independent reviews of trade and investment agreements after five years. We look forward to the full report which is expected in the first quarter of this year,” said Dr Ranald.

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