Australian Coat of Arms

Member for Blaxland

Shadow Minister for Trade and Investment

Shadow Minister for Resources and Northern Australia 

Singapore Australia Free Trade Agreement Update

 

CANBERRA

TUESDAY, 17 OCTOBER 2017

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These bills are the legislative changes required as part of the recent update to the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement.

The Customs Amendment Bill 2017 (Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement Amendment Implementation) amends the Customs Act 1901 to:

  • Introduce new rules of origins for goods that are imported into Australia from Singapore;
  • Introduce new procedures to claim preferential tariff treatment for goods that originate from Singapore; and
  • Extend the record keeping obligations that apply to goods exported to Singapore that are produced and manufactured in Australia to Australian originating goods that are exported to Singapore.

The second bill – the Customs Tariff Amendment Bill 2017 (Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement Amendment Implementation):

  • Provides for duty-free access on entry into force of the amended Agreement for most eligible goods;
  • Inserts a new Schedule 4A to provide for excise-equivalent rates of duty on certain alcohol, tobacco, fuel and petroleum products; and
  • Repeals provisions in Schedule 3 of the Customs Tariff Act that provide for excise equivalent rates on duty on certain alcohol, tobacco fuel and petroleum products in line with the amended agreement, after the expiration of a three year transition period.

Labor supports these changes, and more broadly we support the update to the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement.

The original Free Trade Agreement was signed by the Howard government and the Tong government back in 2003 and was updated by the Gillard government in 2011.

This is the second update to this agreement.

Singapore is our seventh-largest trading partner, last year we exported more than $10 billion in goods and services to Singapore.

This update provides a framework for bilateral investments.

It also recognises a number of Australian qualifications which will provide more opportunities for Australian workers in the areas of education, law, ecommerce, telecommunications and professional services.

The updated rules of origin will help to cut red tape for exporters and reduce compliance costs.

The harmonisation of investor rules for the Foreign Investment Review Board should also help to increase business in both countries.

All of this is good news. 

The updated agreement also restricts the use of ISDS mechanisms.

This is welcome.

As part of the updated agreement ISDS exemptions have been included for governments to regulate to ensure the protection of public welfare, including in the areas of health and the environment.

ISDS provisions will also not apply to:

  • Tobacco control measures
  • Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, Medicare Benefits Scheme, Therapeutic Goods Administration and Office of the Gene Technology Regulator;
  • Measures with respect to creative arts, Indigenous traditional cultural expressions and other cultural heritage; and
  • Australia’s foreign investment policy, including decisions of the Foreign Investment Review Board.

These are important protections however I take this opportunity to restate Labor’s position that we believe these ISDS clauses should be removed altogether.

Sovereign governments should be able to legislate in the national interest and should not be constrained by litigious companies or groups.

A part of the updated agreement (that is not part of this bill), that we do not support is the removal of labour market testing for contractual service suppliers.

I have made this point in this place and elsewhere a number of times.

This is the sort of stuff that really makes Australians angry.

Surely before a company brings in an electrician or a carpenter or a mechanic from overseas they should first have to go through the basic task of seeing if there is an Aussie who can do the job.

But that’s not what’s happening.

The Government is using trade deals to get rid of this.

And despite all the tough talk from the Prime Minister it looks like this is going to keep happening.

This also directly contradicts the government’s announcement earlier this year that labour market testing would be mandatory for all Temporary Skill Shortage visa applications.

Remember a couple of months ago the Prime Minister said: 

“If a job is able to be done by an Australian it should be done by an Australian. Every nation is entitled to take that point of view and we certainly do.”

When they announced their changes to temporary work visas in April the Prime Minister said:

“It will require in almost all cases, the majority of cases, mandatory labour market testing.”

But in the policy document they put out the same day there was a tricky little get out-clause.

This is it on page three:

“Labour Market Testing will be mandatory, unless an international obligation applies.” 

That’s what they have done here. They have waived labour market testing for Singaporean workers as part of the update to SAFTA.

The Government is currently negotiating bilateral and regional trade deals with a number of countries including India, Indonesia, Peru, UK, Hong Kong, Brunei, Canada, Mexico, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, Philippines, Britain and the whole of Europe.

If they do what they here and waive labour market testing in these agreements it will mean 75% of the people who come to Australia to work will come here without the company they work for first having to check if there is an Australian who can do the job.

That said, Mr Speaker we support this update to the Singapore-Australia Free Trade Agreement and we support this legislation.

And I told the Singaporean Deputy Prime Minister and Trade Minister so when they were here a few weeks ago.

We are two countries with a long and important bond.

We are both free and open economies.

Our bureaucrats work together to help open up our region for even more trade and investment.

Our soldiers, sailors and airmen and women train and fight together.

And many Australians who fought and died in the Second World War lay forever in Singaporean soil.

I hope that this update will further cement the bonds between our two great countries and lead to even more trade and investment.

ENDS

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