House debates

Thursday, 9 March 2023


Treaties Joint Committee; Report

11:10 am

Photo of Josh WilsonJosh Wilson (Fremantle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I seek leave to speak again without closing the debate.

Leave granted.

I welcome this report, which I had significant involvement in as the chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties. It has recommended ratification of the Free Trade Agreement between Australia and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. On the Australian side that has occurred, and the enabling legislation has been through the House of Representatives as well. We are still waiting for some of the process that needs to occur in the UK to take place before it comes into force, and we hope that that can happen as soon as possible.

I will follow some of the remarks just made by acknowledging the work that the former minister did under the previous government. That was very significant, particularly in the COVID circumstances. I believe that it was actually concluded by a virtual signing, which obviously was one of the virtual events that we all had to make the best of through a difficult period. But I acknowledge the work that the former minister did in concluding what was a very significant agreement. It's the first trade agreement the UK has signed post-Brexit that is completely new and, as the previous speaker, the member for Wannon, said, it's the most ambitious trade agreement we've concluded with any country other than New Zealand.

There's just no question that trade is critical to Australia and that trade with the UK is critical to Australia. They're our fifth-largest two-way trading partner. They're our third-largest services trading partner. The UK is both the second-largest source of foreign direct investment and the second-largest recipient of outgoing Australian foreign investment. That gives you some sense of the significance of the relationship and the value that will be achieved when we improve the terms on which we trade with the UK, both in goods and in services.

As the member for Wannon said, when this agreement comes into force it will take the tariff-free access for Australian goods exports from 89 per cent to 99 per cent. That is a pretty significant jump, particularly for the goods that constitute the highest value exports from Australia to the UK, which are gold, alcoholic beverages, lead, pearls, gems and so on. Obviously, from our point of view, the United Kingdom is very significant also as the fourth-largest source of inbound tourism. We'd like to see that keep growing, especially in the post-COVID world. There are aspects of the agreement that make it easier for citizens of Australia and citizens of the UK to travel to, spend time in and work in our respective countries, and I think that that's something that's very worthy.

Some other things about the agreement are pretty significant. It has a world-first chapter dedicated to promoting innovation—and this is the first time such a chapter has been included in any agreement, and that's certainly worth noting—and it has an Australian-first chapter that looks to enhance women's access to the full benefits of trade and investment. I think that's notable in the week that we mark International Women's Day. It's true that in lots of areas of social and economic life that women haven't had the opportunity to participate fully and equally in trade and investment. So that chapter in this agreement between us and the UK is an Australian first. Those are features of what can be described as WTO-plus agreements, in the sense that they go above and beyond the sort of content that is traditionally covered through the WTO.

There are also provisions in this agreement that seek to advance Indigenous interests in a number of ways and to open new opportunities for First Nations exporters, and that's welcome. One of them that I can point to goes to the artists resale royalty arrangements. We have a scheme like that in Australia, which the previous Labor government put in place. The UK has a scheme as well. It's envisaged under this agreement that those arrangements will become reciprocal. That's pretty significant for people who may not have turned their minds to resale royalty arrangements. You can understand that for an artist who sells their work initially—perhaps when they are developing they might also sell their early works for a relatively low price—as their artistic talent comes to be established and recognised the value of their work increases, and then the work is sold and onsold. But the benefit of the increase in value—a significant part of which is due to the reputation and artistic expertise of the person who has created that work—is never seen by them. Resale royalties essentially mean that, as that asset increases in value and moves from owner to owner, some of that increase in value is returned to its creator. I think that's appropriate. You can imagine that First Nations art being sold into the United Kingdom is not insignificant and probably will grow. If we can end up with those reciprocal arrangements it will mean all artists, but certainly First Nations artists, will benefit from that. That's something we really welcome.

It's never the case you get everything you want in a trade agreement. The member for Wannon was right to say we have excellent negotiators. The public servants who work in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are excellent people, and they do great work behind the scenes when parliamentarians and ministers get to be in the flash of the camera light, signing agreements; that, of course, occurs off the back of years and years of work of dozens and dozens of people, and it's absolutely right we recognise that. There are some things we won't get in agreements just because that's the nature of negotiations. There are some areas that, through the course of the inquiry, we were alerted to in which, while improvements were made, there are further improvements we would like to see, and they tend to go to agricultural products. Australia is essentially a free and open import destination; people can bring goods into Australia tariff free in almost any category whether or not they have a trade agreement with us, frankly. The UK, like a number of countries, including the US, who sometimes style themselves as champions of the free market and liberalisation, continue to practise some self-interested protective measures. There continue to be some areas in agriculture, around beef, sheepmeat, dairy and sugar, that could be further liberalised, going further from what has been achieved under this agreement.

There was some significant improvement in terms of access to wine. That's significant because the UK has become the No. 1 export destination for Australian wine, because, sadly, China is not allowing the export or import of Australian wine. Our exports of wine to China were at the top of the list, around $1 billion annually. That has fallen away very significantly, and that means the UK, at about $500 million a year, is our top wine export. Through this agreement, the tariff of two pounds and 20 pence that used to apply per bottle of wine with less than 15 per cent alcohol by volume has disappeared, and the tariff of three pounds per bottle of wine or alcoholic beverage with over 15 per cent alcohol has also disappeared. Australian Grape and Wine have told the committee their best guess is that that will deliver a $43 million benefit to our industry here. That's really important, particularly when you see all these arrangements in their context. We want many opportunities for our exporters, not least because when things go wrong, as has occurred, and we find ourselves on the end of unjustified and, I would say, from China's point of view, self-harming geoeconomic coercion—it's China and their consumers that are missing out on the wonderful joys of Australian wine. But, when we find things like that happening almost overnight, it's really important that Australian producers, exporters and manufacturers have other options. This change will no doubt expand the export of alcoholic beverages, particularly wine, to the UK.

For all of the reasons that I've identified and that the member for Wannon has mentioned, this is a really significant agreement, and I'm glad that it has been achieved. We've done our part, and we look forward to the UK doing their bit, and it'll come into force.


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