Thursday, 13 September 2018
Customs Amendment (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership Implementation) Bill 2018, Customs Tariff Amendment (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership Implementation) Bill 2018; Second Reading
I rise today to speak on the complexly named and equally complex in detail Customs Amendment (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership Implementation) Bill 2018, which is cognate with the Customs Tariff Amendment (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership Implementation) Bill 2018. I'm pleased to stand here today in support of the amendments proposed by the shadow minister for trade and investment, the member for Blaxland, and also in support generally of the motivations behind what is now known as the CPTPP.
I stand alongside my colleagues with an unwavering commitment to protecting Australian jobs in trade agreements, a commitment to boosting transparency in the development of trade agreements and improving the way these agreements are negotiated in the first place and from the commencement. Because of these commitments, I can stand here in this chamber and support these amendments put forward by the member for Blaxland. I can say to the people of Australia that, yes, Labor is listening to your concerns. We understand and share these concerns around this agreement, and our priorities are first and foremost to you, the people and workers of Australia.
There has been significant debate over the past several years on the merits of free and open trade, not just in this place but across parliaments and economic forums across the world. Indeed, the decision by the 45th President of the United States to revoke and pull out from the original TPP is a large part of the reason why we as Australians find ourselves in this position. The original TPP in 2016 had 12 signatories: Australia, New Zealand, the US, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Singapore, Chile, Peru, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam. In early 2017, with the election of the 45th President, the United States withdrew from the agreement, meaning it was unable to come into force. The agreement, now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, is now between the remaining 11 signatories of the original TPP, of course including Australia. It is smaller than the original agreement and represents 13 per cent of world GDP, compared to the 40 per cent in the original agreement. The bills debated today implement the tariff cuts as agreed to when Australia signed the CPTPP and eliminated 98 per cent of tariffs between member countries, as well as suspending 22 provisions that were part of the original agreement and were regarded as contentious. It was a novel approach, adopted to revive the TPP. As I have said before in this place, I pay tribute to the very complex and hard work that trade negotiators involved in this put into coming up with this renegotiated TPP, and in particular the leadership shown by Japan in the absence of the US.
Free trade agreements are legitimately contentious enough as it is at the moment, but that does not mean that they are wrong—quite the opposite. It means they must be done right and done right from the very beginning. That is why we have listened to the legitimate concerns of many stakeholders as part of the issue, including the broader labour movement in this country.
Many have raised concerns, including about the inclusion of investor-state dispute settlement provisions and the waiver of labour market testing for six additional countries in the CPTPP. To quote my friend the member for Blaxland, 'It's not protectionism to say that, before a company brings in an electrician or a carpenter or a mechanic from overseas, it should first have to check if there is an Australian who can do the job; it's just common sense.' The member for Blaxland is absolutely right. It is why Labor has committed to fixing this should we be elected to government in the future by the Australian voters. It is why Labor, in the national interest, has been closely scrutinising the CPTPP to make sure it is a more progressive agreement than many of the previous multilateral trade agreements and that it will include protections concerning the environment, labour standards and anticorruption provisions.
We have watched other countries around the world and their reactions and approaches to free and open trade. The United States, once the largest proponent of this ideal, has partially retreated from free trade objectives. This agreement was talked about by the former US President, President Obama. His administration understood the issues of free trade that we face today. In his statement on the subject, he reaffirmed his commitment to the working people of America, and I quote:
Right now, the rules of global trade too often undermine our values and put our workers and businesses at a disadvantage. TPP will change that. It eliminates more than 18,000 taxes that various countries put on Made in America products. It promotes a free and open Internet … It includes the strongest labor standards and environmental commitments in history—and, unlike in past agreements, these standards are fully enforceable.
When looking at our American neighbours it is not too hard to see similarities. Indeed, much of what we have here in Australia in the context of a modern 21st-century nation democratic nation is also found in the US. We share common ideals and defence and trade relations and, until recently, we shared a common view on the benefits of free and open trade done intelligently and correctly.
It is not hard to see why the US have taken their current position. In the past, these agreements have been skewed in favour of business without proper regard for workers and their rights and progress without proper regard for its implications. The backlash from the manufacturing interior of the United States against this agreement, then, comes as little surprise. As a result of this, there are heightened tensions in the global sphere as tariffs are raised on commodities like aluminium and steel, and these tariffs are directed at the Asia-Pacific region and particularly China. However, even with this occurring, it doesn't represent a failure of free trade so much as a failure of communication and consultation, a failure of due diligence and a failure to understand the benefits of trade. It can clearly be seen how the TPP would benefit the US economy, with particularly significant advances in trade and agricultural services. The US puts this at risk by allowing its main competitors to gain increased market access while the US loses ground in market share.
We can take a look at our other neighbours in the region and their history on the issue. As we know, as much as it may be in the headlines, the US is not the only nation that has been advocating for an agreement like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It is important to recognise the regional impact agreements like the TPP will have. As such, it is incumbent on us to engage more with our Asia-Pacific neighbours in this regard. Thailand, Korea and Indonesia are all considering a progression in their negotiations with the TPP and to possibly enter it. In joining, they would bolster the argument that the TPP would be a more fulsome regional trade agreement covering more of the Indo-Pacific region. For economies undergoing significant development such as Vietnam and Malaysia, agreements like the TPP offer a larger consumer market and therefore a greater chance for prosperity—and that's important in this region. The greater the prosperity that developing nations like Vietnam and Malaysia can have and enjoy is better for the whole region and therefore much better for Australia.
During the negotiations between Hanoi and Washington on the TPP, part of the agreement was that Vietnam had to legislate to recognise and legalise some independent unions, allowing them to strike and seek out assistance from foreign labour organisations. We can look at Vietnam's constitution and how it enshrines the right of all workers to engage in protest and strikes. However, until recently, until these negotiations, there was very little legislation to back up these rights of workers—rights that workers enjoy here in Australia. The salient point is that by making it part of the original TPP agreement it is helping to strengthen and broaden the appeal of fair industrial relations laws transnationally—and that's not stemming from parliamentary processes necessarily but from free and open trade.
It is wrong to suggest that the benefits of free trade are just economic. They can permeate every facet of machinery of government in any government in the world, and that is what we are seeing in Vietnam right now as a benefit of the CPTPP. Free trade can have a hugely positive impact in changing values and attitudes and bringing them in line with a modern and progressive 21st century. Free trade agreements like the TPP are not designed in a vacuum; they are continually moving and fluid and work as an institutionalised platform for the liberalisation of trade flows around the world.
If I can continue on the positive transnational impacts of this approach, I would like to touch very briefly on the university sector. The sector is one of the biggest sources of export income, and until fairly recently it was not fully understood what impact these agreements would have on the tertiary sector. These types of agreements can vastly benefit the Australian economy; that much is true. However, the two-way street that is international trade brings with it greater opportunities by allowing greater access to overseas student bodies and a more streamlined approach in the facilitation of international research projects, which are very important to this nation.
I'd like to speak about the difference between the approach of this side of the House and the approach of those opposite. As I mentioned before, the CPTPP includes the ISDS provisions, which give foreign companies the ability to sue the Australian government. Labor opposes the inclusion of these provisions in any trade agreement, now and into the future. The member for Blaxland, the shadow minister, outlined these in more detail, and they are set out in the amendment to this motion, so I won't go into it in detail. A Labor government would not pursue agreements that include these provisions and would negotiate to remove them from agreements where they have been included by the current government. We know there is a precedent for this to happen. The New Zealand government under Prime Minister Ardern has successfully negotiated with four countries to remove ISDS provisions, which were negotiated by the previous, conservative government of New Zealand, through additional negotiation in the form of side letters to the now CPTPP. Key regulatory measures outlined in these agreements are ongoing and indeed need to be strengthened, including in areas of transparency and corruption, with requirements to criminalise associated behaviour; greater developments in ecommerce, including protections on privacy and equalisation of content; and, importantly, labour standards, including requirements needed to enforce these standards and prevent child or forced labour.
The Australian Labor Party supports free trade and open markets. Open markets lift people out of poverty and create higher-paid, more-secure jobs. To quote directly from a recently published report called Expanding the TPP?by the Perth USAsia Centre in Perth, written by Dr Jeffrey Wilson and my friend and colleague Hugo Seymour:
The CPTPP also provides regional economies a 'lever' to resist coercive trade practices by the Trump Administration … US absence also imposes costs on the US economy, particularly in terms of preferential disadvantages for the agriculture sector in accessing Asian markets … In this way, the CPTPP functions as a strategic hedge for regional governments to bargain with the US for better trade outcomes.
Australians at every level want better trade outcomes as well, which is unsurprising given our status as a key trading nation. Our future economic success is underpinned by our ability to sell goods and services overseas. If I could make a further observation about the importance of free and open trade, some have observed—and there have been reputable reports on this—that Australia won't gain as much as other nations in this trade arrangement. This may be true; in fact, I'm certain it's true. Nonetheless, it is in Australia's interests for our neighbours to increase their prosperity and their access to consumer markets around the world and throughout the region. As I said before, for Vietnam and Malaysia to have access to a greater consumer base is good for their markets and for their continued and growing prosperity, and in that case it is very good for the region as a whole. Whilst Australia won't benefit from a GDP growth as high as other countries will, the CPTPP will nonetheless help secure our locational security in our geographic region. I think we should remember that free and open trade is not just all about us; it's not just about what's in it for Australia.
Free and open trade with other countries is something we should think about from a wider perspective. What's in it for our region? What safety and security do we get out of this? What is the increase in prosperity, and how does it benefit the welfare and concerns of our very near neighbours in the region, who we care greatly about? Global free trade, based on the international rules-based order that is currently being written through the CPTPP, will enable a free, safe and prosperous Indo-Pacific, and, in many ways, that is to the very great benefit of Australia and our neighbours. Multilateralism serves to share benefits. The unfortunate pursuit by the US of a strict bilateral approach tends to lead to the picking off of different countries for different trade agreements, which is more to the benefit of one nation than to the greater benefit of a collection of nations, such as we're seeing with the TPP.
Once again, I'd like to congratulate the trade negotiators, who are the unsung heroes in these agreements. They work many long hours in many countries around the world. They witnessed a change of administration in the US which saw their work undone to a large extent, but it was, thankfully, revived again. I pay tribute to the leadership of Japan in this. It has stepped up into a great leadership role in the Indo-Pacific. They should be congratulated on reviving the TPP and allowing Australia to continue a great tradition of free and open trade in this region.