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URGENT PARLIAMENTARY REVIEW OF CHINA-AUSTRALIA FREE TRADE AGREEMENT REQUIRED

19 November 2020

Independent Senator Rex Patrick has today called for an urgent review of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) by the Australian Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT), including consideration of possible suspension of the Agreement in the light of China's behaviour and Australia's wider strategic and national security interests.

Senator Patrick said: “Yesterday Treasurer Josh Frydenberg held out a tentative olive branch to Beijing. The Chinese Embassy in Canberra replied with an extraordinarily crude political attack, much more reminiscent of Chinese Communist Party propaganda of the 1950s and 1960s than in accord with acceptable diplomatic conduct in the 21st Century”.

“The Australian Government must stand firm and enforce our sovereignty. That requires a full-scope reset of our dealings with Beijing, including substantial efforts to reduce Australia’s recent economic dependence on the China market. That will require a wide-ranging review and possible suspension of the bilateral Free Trade Agreement.”

“Five years ago, in November 2015, the Coalition and Labor members of the Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties recommended that Australia ratify the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement. They did so despite significant ‘misgivings’ about the potential impact on Australia of ChAFTA’s ‘inequitable’ tariff changes, inadequate requirements for labour market testing, and the inclusion in the agreement of an Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism.”

“It would be most timely now, five years on, for JSCOT to again review and report on ChAFTA, especially with regard to China’s politically-driven trade coercion against Australia. Australia and China had a mutually advantageous trade relationship prior to ChAFTA, but Australia has unquestionably become overdependent on the China market, and China is now pressing hard to exploit that situation for political purposes."

“Trade Minister Simon Birmingham says that each of China’s recent actions targeting Australian goods - whether meat, barley, wine, seafood or timber - must be considered on a case-by-case basis; however the overall pattern is very clear.  There has been a deliberate escalation of punitive measures as the Chinese Communist government puts politics ahead of fair trade.”

“Chinese Ministers refuse to engage with their Australian counterparts. The Chinese Embassy in Canberra abuses the Australian Government. China’s state controlled media have left no doubt that Beijing is demanding political concessions before any return to trade as usual.”

“The Chinese Government’s attitude shows complete disrespect for Australia. It is the antithesis of the mutually respectful relations ChAFTA was meant to promote.”

“A comprehensive JSCOT inquiry into ChAFTA should be conducted as a priority, ahead of any consideration by the Joint Committee of the new Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. After all, how can we evaluate China’s likely compliance with this new agreement while such a dark shadow has been cast over their behaviour in relation to ChAFTA?”

“The terms of reference of a JSCOT inquiry should include consideration of whether Australia should suspend ChAFTA in the light of China’s non-compliance with the letter and spirit of the Agreement, and Australia’s wider national security interests including the necessity to reduce our exposure to Chinese coercion.” 

"I will move a motion to refer ChAFTA, including the question of possible suspension of the Agreement, to the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties once the Federal Parliament resumes sitting at the end of November.”