AAP | March 5, 2012
Labor standing firm on Pacific trade deal
Adam Gartrell, AAP Diplomatic Correspondent
The federal government is standing firm against Australian and US business demands that it allow controversial dispute settlement clauses into an ambitious new Pacific free trade deal.
Australia is one of nine nations seeking to reach final agreement on a deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) by the end of 2012.
The 11th round of negotiations - which also includes the US, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Peru, Chile and Brunei - are now underway in Melbourne.
But talks have entered troubled waters over what are known as investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clauses.
These typically give businesses from one country power to take international legal action against the government of another, over agreement breaches.
The clauses are included in many multilateral and bilateral free trade agreements.
But the federal government last year issued a new trade policy, in which it ruled out supporting such clauses, arguing they ran the risk of giving foreign business greater legal rights than domestic businesses.
The government believes such clauses could also constrain its ability to make laws on social, environmental and economic matters.
Trade Minister Craig Emerson on Monday said the government would not change its position.
"We do not and will not support investor-state dispute settlement provisions," Dr Emerson told reporters on Monday.
"This is government policy.
"It’s the result of a cabinet decision in April last year, reaffirmed at the (ALP) national conference."
The heads of 31 US business groups last week urged President Barack Obama to take Australia to task over the issue.
"Australia’s rejection of investor-state dispute settlement is not only thwarting the ability of the TPP negotiations to produce strong enforcement outcomes, it is also having a corrosive effect on the level of ambition and other key aspects of the TPP negotiations," the business leaders said in an open letter to Mr Obama.
The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) on Monday also expressed concerned about the government’s position.
"We think the Australian government’s approach of non-inclusion is poor policy and leaves Australian firms exposed when they are doing business overseas," ACCI Director of Trade and International Affairs Bryan Clark said.
"We urge the government to reconsider its position on ISDS and negotiate all aspects of the TPP in good faith and in support of Australian business interests."
There are hopes the TPP will serve as a building block for the ultimate goal of a free-trade deal covering all 21 APEC countries.