On 23 October 2018 the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Senator the Hon Simon Birmingham, wrote to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties’ (JSCOT) referring the Peru—Australia Free Trade Agreement (PAFTA) to the Committee for a second inquiry.
The Minister informed the Committee that following the passage of the enabling legislation of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP-11), the Australian Labor Party (ALP) was seeking further investigation into PAFTA in order to satisfy themselves on the merits of the agreement prior to consideration of the enabling legislation.
Although the Committee agreed in August 2018 that PAFTA be ratified, there were some aspects of the broader trade environment on which the ALP sought further information. The terms of reference for this inquiry therefore considered:
ongoing concerns over the increasing complexity created by the number of trade agreements, particularly multiple agreements with the same partner; and
the specific inclusion and operation of the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions in recently concluded trade agreements.
The Committee determined that the evidence received regarding the complexity caused by the proliferation of trade agreements and subsequent difficulties posed for users of those agreements is conflicting and inconclusive. This suggests that further work needs to be done in this area and that it cannot be dealt with either by investigation of a single treaty, or within the tight timeframe of this inquiry. The evidence from both sides of the argument deserves closer investigation.
With regard to the inclusion of ISDS mechanisms within trade agreements, the Committee acknowledges the long standing and ongoing concerns but understands that these provisions also provide protection for Australian businesses operating abroad. The Committee considers that, again, in light of the continuing nature of this issue, a separate dedicated inquiry to enable a comprehensive investigation of the topic may be warranted.
However, overall the Committee acknowledges the gains and opportunities that PAFTA will provide for Australian businesses and exporters and notes the importance of early ratification. Therefore the Committee reiterates its recommendation that binding treaty action be taken.