5 things the Australia trade deal should include if the UK is serious about G7 commitements

Posted on June 16, 2021
Scott Morrison And Boris Johnson

As part of the G7 meeting last weekend, the UK recognised that the unprecedented crises of climate change and biodiversity loss “pose an existential threat to people, prosperity, security, and nature.” It has also used the summit as a platform to launch its first truly independent trade deal with Australia. It therefore seems appropriate to consider whether UK commitments at the G7 have translated into action in its trade deal.

Unfortunately, it appears that no-one, not even DIT’s advisory groups, has had sight of the text of the trade deal with Australia. So it’s impossible to make any kind of assessment. In lieu of an assessment of the actual text, here are five things the deal should contain if the UK is serious about its G7 commitments:

1. Make climate commitments binding on all aspects of the deal. The G7 has committed to “mainstream nature, including biodiversity, and climate into economic decision-making.” To deliver on this commitment, countries will need to include their approach to trade.

This would mean that the UK would bake into the deal support for the “circular economy approach” also referenced by the G7. It would monitor the impact of the Australia deal, and if elements were shown to be contributing to increased emissions, or undermining the ability of either Party to address climate change, the provisions in the deal would be modified or removed completely.

2. Exclude Investor-to-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) from the deal. The G7 commits to accelerating the clean energy transition. Yet ISDS is being used to challenge many climate-friendly policies, including attempts by the Netherlands and Canada to phase out coal-fired power stations and Italy’s ban on the exploitation of oil and gas close to its coastline.

The UK-Australia deal leaves the UK potentially exposed because Australian company EMR Capital is the primary investor in the proposed Cumbria coal mine. If the coal mine plan is scrapped, EMR could take the UK to a private tribunal under the deal, with the potential for millions of pounds in fines.

3. Ensure patent provisions do not hinder the sharing of green technology. The G7 commits to giving developing countries more and better finance to help accelerate “the global shift to renewable energy and sustainable technology.”

Trade deals generally provide for generous ‘intellectual property’ provisions that can extent patent protections to twenty years or more. To honour their G7 commitment, we should expect the UK to have negotiated for the waiving of patents on green technologies.

4. Ensure provisions that affect food and agriculture support the transition to an agroecological model of farming. The G7 climate and environment ministers recognise the negative impacts of land use change, unsustainable food production systems and deforestation. In reference to pandemic, they also make reference to “unsustainable international trade and consumption.”

Trade deals can drive unsustainable models of agricultural production and consumption, for example if they allow cheaper imports of agricultural products using less sustainable methods to be imported as ‘equivalent’ to higher standard products. The UK-Australia deal should ensure that chapters such as those on agriculture and regulatory cooperation are fully supportive of a transition in agricultural production.

5. Ensure full transparency and scrutiny of the deal. At present, none of the UK’s own advisory groups has had sight of the deal, which means it has been negotiated without the benefit of input from a range of experts.

The Government must ensure that at minimum, parliamentary time is given to debate and vote on the deal. Ahead of this, it should follow the example of the US and EU and ensure a minimum of sixty to ninety days for MPs to consider the text and seek input from business, civil society and academics, as well as their own constituents.

Ruth Bergan is Senior Advisor at the Trade Justice Movement, which represents NGOs, faith groups and trade unions campaigning to ‘make trade work for people and planet’. She tweets at @RuthBergan. More information on the Trade Justice Movement: www.tjm.org.uk or @TradeJusticeMov


Photo: London, United Kingdom. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison pose for a photograph with a hamper full of Australian and British goods in the garden of 10 Downing Street. Picture by Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)