Framework Agreement Between Australia, of the one part and the European Union and its Member States, of the other part
This Chapter reviews the Framework Agreement between Australia, of the one part, and the European Union and its Member States, of the other part (the EU Framework).
The Agreement was signed at Manila on 7 August 2017, and tabled in the Parliament on 26 March 2018.
According to the National Interest Analysis (NIA), the Agreement will formalise a range of bilateral cooperation and dialogue processes.
The NIA states that the Agreement will establish a legally-binding framework for cooperation on a broad range of issues of mutual interest, including economic and trade matters, research and innovation, counter-terrorism, development, non-proliferation, human rights, democracy promotion, climate change and environment, education, information society, digital economy, culture, and justice.
Further, the NIA explains that the Agreement is consistent with Australia’s relationship with most of its other non-EU G20 partners.
Reasons for Australia to take the treaty action
The NIA claims that the Agreement positions the Australia-EU bilateral relationship for a deeper and stronger partnership to pursue international peace and to promote shared democratic values. The NIA explained that this would be pursued through the following key areas, discussed below.
The NIA explains that the Agreement provides for joint action in areas such as foreign and security policy, development cooperation, trade and investment, climate change and environment, research, science, innovation and education.
Australia has an interest in working with the EU to enhance and improve security, stability, good governance and coordination of development cooperation in the changing strategic landscape in the Indo-Pacific region.
The NIA states that Australia and the EU have begun work toward the goal of a bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA), continuing a shared interest in strengthening economic cooperation and ensuring an effective rules-based international trading system.
The Agreement would be separate from the FTA, which will have its own ratification process.
The NIA suggests that strengthened cooperation, including on jointly-funded projects, may help to maximise the long-term development impact of Australia’s aid investments.
The evolving global research environment provides opportunities for deeper forms of collaboration between Australian and European research institutions. Australia is already the EU’s fourth highest non-EU collaborator in research and innovation.
Deeper research links may provide opportunities for new forms of collaboration between Australian and European research institutions, and may include international education experiences for students.
People-level connections should remain strong, supporting tourism and working holiday or work and holiday visa arrangements.
The NIA explains that the Framework Agreement has three purposes, as set out in Article 1:
to establish a strengthened partnership between the Parties;
to provide a framework to facilitate and promote cooperation across a broad range of areas of mutual interest; and
to enhance cooperation in order to develop solutions to regional and global challenges.
The key obligations that the Agreement covers are outlined below.
Foreign Policy and Security Matters
Articles 3–11 of the Agreement require the Parties to promote:
development of the bilateral relationship;
democratic, human rights and rule of law principles;
regular political dialogue between leaders, ministers and Parliaments; and
regular consultation between senior officials.
Article 5 reaffirms Parties’ commitment to promoting peace and stability, and establishment of crisis management operations. The Agreement requires Parties to:
implement existing obligations under disarmament, non-proliferation and other relevant treaties;
implement their existing obligations dealing with small arms and light weapons;
cooperate in promoting the aims and objectives of the Rome Statute;
cooperate bilaterally and internationally in the fight against terrorists; and
cooperate in regional and international organisations.
Global Development and Humanitarian Aid
Articles 12–13 of the Agreement require Parties to strengthen coordination on development assistance to ensure that development activities have greater impact, reach and influence.
Economic and Trade Matters
Articles 14–31 of the Agreement deal with trade-related provisions of a general nature, including:
requirement for dialogue including an annual trade policy dialogue;
commitment to promoting a positive environment for bilateral trade and investment; and
requirement to inform each other where possible of regulatory issues with a potential impact on trade and investment.
The Agreement will feature obligations on specific issues such as investment, competition policy, financial services, and sanitary, phytosanitary and animal welfare issues. The Agreement will also support Australia’s commitment to working on joint initiatives such as commitment to a digital economy, small parcel/mail item level reporting, and risk management and air cargo security.
Justice, Freedom and Security
Articles 32–40 of the Agreement require:
strengthening of private international law and legal and judicial cooperation in civil and commercial matters;
cooperation on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters; and
cooperation on law enforcement, combating terrorism, transnational organised crime and corruption, combating illicit drugs, combating cybercrime, combating money laundering and the financing of terrorism, migration and asylum, and the protection of personal data.
The Agreement provides for consular protection for the Parties where permanent representation is not available.
Research, Innovation and the Information Society
Articles 41–42 of the Agreement require Parties to enhance cooperation in the areas of science, research and innovation in support of, or complementary to, the treaty between the EC and Australia relating to scientific and technical cooperation, and the exchange of views on respective policies on information and communication technologies.
Education and Culture
Articles 43–44 of the Agreement require the promotion of closer cooperation between Parties in the education, cultural and creative sectors.
Sustainable Development, Energy and Transport
Articles 45–54 of the Agreement require the Parties to:
strengthen cooperation on the protection of the environment and mainstreaming environmental considerations;
enhance cooperation in the field of climate change;
maintain regular dialogue and cooperation at political, policy and technical levels;
meet obligations in respect of energy, transport, agriculture, sustainable forest management and employment and social affairs;
strengthen dialogue and cooperation on issues of common interest relating to fisheries and maritime affairs; and
encourage mutual cooperation, exchange of information and sharing of policy experiences in the fields of health and effective management of cross-border health problems.
Article 56 of the Agreement obliges Australia and the EU to establish a Joint Committee which will facilitate the implementation and further the general aims of the Agreement, as well as maintain overall coherence in Australia–EU relations. The Joint Committee will be co-chaired by both Parties, and may establish sub-committees and working groups to progress specific issues.
According to the NIA, no new Australian legislation or regulations would be required to implement the Agreement. The NIA also states that any necessary technical, logistic or administrative arrangements required to implement the Agreement will be concluded on a case-by-case basis between Australian and EU competent authorities.
The NIA states that a Regulation Impact Statement is not required.
Need for the agreement
The Committee questioned representatives of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) on the need for what is essentially an aspirational framework agreement, and how the Agreement was conceived.
DFAT explained that Australia had a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding status arrangement with the EU which covered aspects of bilateral cooperation that extended as far back as 2008.
DFAT further explained how the Agreement was developed and why it is necessary:
My understanding is that in 2010 it was agreed, between then Prime Minister Gillard and her counterpart on the EU side, that we might seek to elevate that to a treaty level or a legally binding agreement, and negotiations began soon after that and continued till 2017, when the agreement was signed. In terms of why we need it, it is something that the EU does with many of its core bilateral partners [such as] Japan, Korea, Indonesia [and] Canada.
DFAT also explained that the Agreement binds Australia to an ongoing commitment to cooperate in the areas outlined in the Agreement, however it does not necessarily bind Australia to specific activities.
During the examination of the treaty action there appeared to be some confusion between the evidence provided in the NIA and that provided by the public hearing witnesses concerning the exact relationship between the Agreement and the development of an FTA.
The NIA stated that Australia and the EU have begun work toward the goal of a bilateral FTA, with Australia advocating for the launch of negotiations in 2018. The NIA explained that the Agreement would complement a future FTA.
The NIA also explained that the Agreement would be separate from an FTA, which will have its own ratification process.
Further, Article 15(5) of the Agreement makes clear that:
… the Agreement neither requires nor precludes the negotiation and conclusion of an FTA between the Parties in the future to complement and extend the economic provisions in this Agreement.
The Committee sought clarification on the relationship between the Agreement and an FTA. DFAT discussed the relationship:
There's clearly a reference in the framework agreement to the free trade agreement, but they're going down separate tracks with separate processes and with separate mandates.
Asked whether the Agreement will guide or complement an FTA process, DFAT explained:
I think it would complement it … It's hard for me to see how it would guide it other than in the most general way, since it says that the agreement neither requires nor precludes the negotiation and conclusion of an FTA. But certainly it complements it in the sense that the references to open trade and investment throughout the framework agreement are ones that we would seek to pick up in the free trade agreement.
The Committee discussed with DFAT the establishment of a Joint Committee under the Agreement, its purpose and composition.
DFAT briefly summarised the proposed Joint Committee’s remit:
We are looking for the joint committee to monitor the development of the bilateral relationship comprehensively and to set priorities and to determine plans of action in relation to the purpose of the agreement. It will be an opportunity for all portfolios to bring together their current priorities and to have those considered at a high level.
When asked about the composition of the Joint Committee, DFAT explained that the establishment and composition of the proposed committee had not yet been agreed, but did clarify that it is likely to involve senior government officials at a minimum. DFAT anticipates that the Joint Committee would meet once a year.
The Committee recognises the need for this aspirational Agreement to reaffirm commitment to high-level political dialogue, shared values and common principles that underpin the bilateral relationship between Australia and the European Union.
The Committee is satisfied that the Agreement will complement, rather than guide or direct, any future FTA negotiations.
The Committee specifically recognises that, as per Article 15(5) of the Agreement, any future FTA negotiated to complement and extend the provisions in the Agreement is neither required nor precluded.
The Committee notes concerns raised in submissions, however the views on issues presented are not under direct consideration in this inquiry. If a Free Trade Agreement is reached in the future, the Committee will conduct a thorough inquiry of its terms.
The Committee supports the Agreement and recommends that binding treaty action be taken.
The Committee supports the Framework Agreement between Australia, of the one part, and the European Union and its Member States, of the other part and recommends that binding treaty action be taken.