Australian Domestic Politics Could Delay Passage of Free Trade Deal with China

By Justin Kirschner

Australia’s Trade Minister, Andrew Robb, is warning that China will walk away from the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement if the deal’s passage through Australia’s parliament is delayed.  In Australia, Labor MPs, worried about the deal’s effect on the Australian job market, want to pass a domestic provision forcing Australian companies to advertise job openings domestically before looking overseas for workers.  In an interview, Mr. Robb admitted that such a law would be easy to pass, but wouldn’t be desirable because China would view it as “an almighty snub,” ruining any good will the deal generated.  In parliament this week, the trade deal dominated question time.  Some Labor MPs made serious inquiries into the rationale behind particular provisions of the deal, but politics soon took over: the deal’s proponents resorted to rebranding the agreement an “export” deal and lobbed accusations of “xenophobic, racist activities” at the deal’s opponents.  Of course both sides appreciate increased trade’s benefits—indeed the deal was negotiated over the last ten years mostly under Labor governments—but that has not stopped trade’s natural nemesis, domestic politics, from delaying the deal’s approval.