Labor will support legislation to ratify the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) because it will benefit Australian exporters and workers, but calls on the Government to take a stand on the restoration of democracy in Myanmar.
In August, the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties report on the RCEP agreement called on the Government to pursue the restoration of civilian, democratic rule in Myanmar as a foreign policy priority, and consider making a declaration to this effect at the time of ratification of the RCEP agreement.
This is the second Government-chaired committee to recommend the Morrison-Joyce Government take strong action against the coup-leaders in Myanmar, including imposing targeted sanctions, as other likeminded countries have done.
The Government’s refusal to implement any sanctions since the coup in Myanmar sends precisely the wrong message: that Australia does not care and that we are mere bystanders to democratic backsliding in our region.
RCEP gives Australia a seat at the table in the world’s largest trading bloc – comprising the 10 ASEAN nations, plus China, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
Together, these countries make up 29 per cent of global GDP and nearly one third of the world’s population. They include nine of Australia’s top 15 trading partners and economies, which account for 58 per cent of Australia’s total two-way trade and 67 per cent of our exports.
RCEP will rank behind only the World Trade Organisation itself as the world’s largest trade agreement.
Rules-based trade supports Australian jobs and is vital to building the kind of region we want; one that is stable, prosperous and respectful of sovereignty.
Labor has sought and received assurances that Australia’s obligations under RCEP and its enabling legislation do not:
- remove Australia’s capacity to govern in the interest of all Australians, including protecting local jobs through the regulation of temporary work;
- in any way inhibit the Government’s ability to implement in full the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aged Care Services;
- expand waivers of labour market testing;
- impede Government procurement of goods and services locally;
- force the privatisation of public services; or
- undermine Medicare or the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
Moreover, RCEP does not include any Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions.
Labor has always located Australia’s prosperity and security in our region and has always been the party of open trade.
Australia’s accession to RCEP is of critical importance to our relationship with all our ASEAN neighbours in the context of an increasingly contested Indo-Pacific.
I thank the trade union movement and civil society groups for their continued advocacy to ensure the trade agreements Australia enters into are open and fair.
TUESDAY, 19 OCTOBER 2021