Michael Danby MP, Deputy Chair; Senator Jenny McAllister; Josh Wilson MP; Susan Templeman MP; Senator the Hon Kristina Keneally
PACER Plus Agreement
Labor supports fair and free trade through agreements, preferably multilateral, that are openly negotiated and made subject to independent economic analysis and proper process, including informed consideration by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (the “Committee”). Trade is best pursued through appropriately structured and regulated multilateral arrangements that allow countries to pursue their own economic development, while ensuring that development occurs regionally and globally on a sustainable and inclusive basis, with proper protections for human rights and for the environment we all share.
Plurilateral and regional agreements like PACER Plus can help achieve an open, balanced, and harmonised approach to trade between nations. In the case of Pacific Island nations, Labor is conscious that particular circumstances and considerations apply, both to the economic and development challenges that face our regional neighbours, individually, and to the relationship between Australia and those nations. Put simply, there is a vast capacity and economic imbalance between Australia (and New Zealand) and the smaller Pacific Island nations, and we should only put in place trade arrangements that are supportive of the broad development interests of those countries. Labor is generally wary and appropriately critical of ‘aid-for-trade’ as a development tool, and believes this approach should be regarded with measured scepticism in relation to our Pacific Island neighbours.
It is essential to recognise that the PACER agreement only removes tariffs that affect Australian exports, and while there is a slow phase-in of the tariff reductions, they are dramatic in terms of their scale and coverage. This agreement delivers no tariff benefits to Pacific Island nations vis-à-vis Australia. When considering the non-exporting nature of many Pacific economies, it is hard not to view this agreement as being skewed to the Australian self-interest end of the spectrum. It is also vital that Australia carefully consider and monitor the impact on Pacific Island industries that underpin the wellbeing of local communities in the Pacific Islands, and are especially important with regard to the participation of women.
It is salient to repeat the Report’s observations about the absence from this Agreement of Papua New Guinea and Fiji, which together represent more than 80% of GDP of Pacific Island nations. The submission from AFTINET points to the fact that PNG and Fiji withdrew from the Agreement on the basis that it was not to their benefit, which begs the question of its value to smaller, less developed nations in our region.
The concerns that Labor members of the Committee have in relation to the PACER agreement include:
The absence of independent economic analysis of the impact of the Agreement, on Australia and on participating Pacific Island nations;
The apparent allocation of Official Development Assistance funding from within the existing ODA allocation to support the adoption and implementation of PACER by our neighbours, considering that all the tariff benefits accrue to Australia;
The likelihood that this agreement will significantly reduce the capacity of Pacific Island nations to fund key social services as a result of the loss of tariff revenue, which in some cases has been estimated to effect a 10% decrease in government revenue; and
The fact that the labour mobility agreement associated with PACER doesn’t provide the rigour, clarity, and certainty that could deliver meaningfully improved social and economic benefits to Pacific Island nations in the form of employment opportunities and consequent remittances.
In light of these concerns, Labor members of the Committee moved the following recommendation, and were grateful to the Committee for including them within the Inquiry report.
The Committee recommends that part of the development assistance allocated to implementing PACER Plus be specifically used to monitor the revenue of Pacific Island Governments, the public health, and gender equality impact of the Agreement, and where necessary, provide funds to Pacific Island countries to assist relevant development outcomes.
As previously recommended in Reports 165 and 172, the Committee again recommends that the Government commission independent economic analysis of all trade agreements to improve the transparency and quality of their assessment.
Reprocessing Nuclear Fuel-France
While Labor members of the Committee understand the need to have in place arrangements with regard to Intermediate Level Waste from the Open Pool Australian Lightwater (OPAL) reactor, it is disappointing that this agreement has been presented for consideration without the full context in which such arrangements should be considered, including in relation to previous agreements.
For example, legitimate questions have been raised but not satisfactorily answered in relation to:
The expiry or abandonment of a previous arrangement with the United States of America which would have resulted in no return of processed waste to Australia, at less cost;
The lack of detail on the costs involved in the proposed arrangement under the Agreement (specifically compared with previous arrangements and other options), and also the lack of detail about the contracts with Areva, and other contingencies;
The apparent absence of contingency planning around the possibility that reprocessing in France could cease to be available without much notice, as previously occurred with the UK; and
The paucity of detail around progress towards the creation of the National Radioactive Waste Management Facility.
Senator the Hon Kristina Keneally