In a week where the Gillard Government has drawn to a close and its Trade Minister has resigned it is probably a useful time for a preliminary review of the outcomes of its trade policy which has had an immediate effect on those in industry.
For these purposes, an appropriate set of terms of reference would be to the "Trade Policy Statement" of April 2011 and the June 2011 Statement entitled "Streamlining Australia's Anti-Dumping System. An Effective Anti-Dumping and Countervailing System for Australia".
Australia and the World Trade Organisation
As readers would be aware, Australian trade policy places priority on completion of the multi-lateral negotiations as part of the Doha round of negotiations to liberalise international trade. However, as readers would also be aware, that aim is unlikely to be achieved in the immediate future (if at all). While this is hardly the fault of the Gillard Government, it does place a premium on other WTO initiatives. This includes the leadership of Australia at the WTO to initiate discussions for a separate Trade in Services Agreement although, ironically, that does diverge from the stated policy of the Gillard Government to seek only comprehensive trade agreements covering both goods and services. Australia is also to the forefront of negotiations on an agreement for Trade Facilitation (including Customs procedures).
Fair Trade Agreements
The Trade Policy Statement contained a number of aims in terms of Australia's FTA agenda. Put simply, Australia has still to secure its FTA with China and has not finalised negotiations on FTA with South Korea and Japan by the proposed dates of late 2011. Clearly, there are factors which have mitigated against completion of those latter FTA but once the Government set out its aims in the Trade Policy Statement, its achievement will be tested against that document.
At the same time, the Gillard Government did complete separate FTA with ASEAN (in conjunction with New Zealand) and Malaysia. Further, negotiations are well advanced in relation to the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (admittedly largely at the instigation of the US) and negotiations have been initiated on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership while negotiations with the Gulf Co-operation Council have resumed.
As a consequence, while the Trade Policy Statement was ambitious, the actual outcomes largely reflect commercial realities that countries will only complete FTA or other trade initiatives depending on their own self-interest and domestic policy initiatives.
The trade policies of both main political parties have yet to be announced ahead of the next Federal election but they will be important as improvements in international trade are a fundamental part to trade policy which is in many ways the most important factor in domestic economic development and success.
From a legal and policy perspective, possibly the most significant and enduring product of the Gillard Government has been the reform of the Australian anti-dumping (and countervailing) system. This has entailed both legislative and practice changes. While expressed as "streamlining" the system, many of the changes have, in reality, been aimed at addressing the concerns of Australian industry that the previous regime did not adequately protect their interests against increased levels of "unfair" practices by exporters to Australia. The passage of the 6 "Tranches" of anti-dumping legislation has now been completed (although not all have yet to commence) and many of the practice changes are being put into place.
A shiny new Anti-Dumping Regime
So, as we move towards the second half of 2013, we have a shiny new anti-dumping regime with a new Anti-Dumping Commission to conduct investigations and a new Review Panel to review the actions of those involved in investigations.
The legal changes are, quite simply, the most significant for many years and will cause significant headaches for overseas exporters, importers of goods the subject of investigations as well as Australian manufacturers who use those goods in their own domestic production (such as in the automotive industry). Most immediately, the legislative changes have introduced the new concept of "circumvention" by which a party may initiate an investigation on the basis that certain practices by overseas exporters or importers have only been put into place to "circumvent" existing Australian trade measures and duties should still be imposed on the goods brought into Australia through those practices.
The Gillard Government certainly announced an ambitious set of initiatives in terms of trade and legislative policy. While a number of the initiatives have not been achieved, many of the other initiatives have, in fact, been achieved and measures taken to advance other initiatives. While the inability to complete negotiations on various FTA is of disadvantage to Australian industry, that same industry will also benefit from other legislative initiatives in terms of our anti-dumping and countervailing regime.
As always, time will tell on the enduring success of these initiatives.