Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clauses are a prominent feature of many modern International Investment Agreements (IIAs). They are included in nearly all the IIAs to which Australia is a party. Typically, an ISDS clause allows a foreign investor (often a corporation) to challenge a government decision before a panel of private arbitrators who have the power to make decisions and make awards that are binding and enforceable. More
For our fourth profile of Women in International Law Month, Editor-in-Chief Jennifer Tridgell sat down with the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), Professor Gillian Triggs. She is a highly accomplished international lawyer and academic, with experience on matters from commercial law to Indigenous rights. More
For our third profile for Women in International Law Month, we were honoured to interview Professor Christine Chinkin of the London School of Economics. She is a renowned Feminist scholar, particularly for her ground-breaking work on women, peace and security, in addition to her collaboration with Hilary Charlesworth and Shelley Wright on the gendered boundaries of international law. More
For our second interview of Women in International Law Month, we are joined by Dr Sarah Nouwen. She is a leading expert on international law of peacemaking and justice in Africa, and Co-Deputy Director of the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law at the University of Cambridge. More
To celebrate International Women’s Day and the swearing in of Chief Justice Kiefel as the first female Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, the ILA Reporter will profile prominent Women in International Law throughout March 2017. Our first interview is with Professor Natalie Klein, current Dean at Macquarie University Law School and a leading expert in international law of the sea. More
In December 2015, Australia’s Federal Parliament amended the Citizenship Act 2007 (Cth) (“Citizenship Act”) to add avenues by which dual citizens could lose their Australian citizenship for terror-related conduct. Much of the commentary on the amendments has focused on the justifications behind the legislation, and the implications for Australia’s compliance with international human rights. Less commentary has focused on how the new provisions interact with, and likely contravene, Australia’s international security obligations.
Recognising male victims of sexual violence in war: the UN Security Council and ad hoc tribunals – Richard Hughes
By Editors in Analysis, Articles, Opinion Tags: international criminal law, International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, international criminal tribunal for the former yugoslavia, international humanitarian law, united nations security council
Australia has provided steadfast support for the UN’s agenda on women, peace and security, ever since the landmark Resolution 1325. This agenda has done much to shine light on the sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls in times of war. But what about the male victims – where do they fit into the picture?
Resolution 1325, passed unanimously in 2000, marked the beginning of the Security Council’s direct engagement with the issues of gender and sexual violence in armed conflict and has since served as the organising framework for the UN’s agenda on women, peace and security. The Security Council has subsequently passed a number of related resolutions on sexual violence, but only one resolution makes mention of male victims. Resolution 2106 notes that sexual violence in armed conflict “disproportionately affects women and girls, as well as groups that are particularly vulnerable or may be specifically targeted, while also affecting men and boys and those secondarily traumatized as forced witnesses of sexual violence against family members”. Evidently, there is a conceptual difficulty associated with including the male experience in an agenda otherwise focused on women and girls, and it seems that the best the Security Council has been able to do is include a passing mention.
In Resolution 1820, the Security Council notes that “women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group”. But the effects of sexual violence as a weapon of war are equally devastating when men and boys are targeted. In the same resolution, the Security Council also “[d]emands that all parties to armed conflict immediately take appropriate measures to protect civilians, including women and girls, from all forms of sexual violence, which could include … debunking myths that fuel sexual violence”. It is not clear exactly what the Security Council has in mind here, which leaves the impression that it is simply making a throwaway comment. A more detailed consideration of the myths fuelling sexual violence would help to shine light on both female and male experiences of sexual violence.
From the perspective of male victims, Resolution 1888 poses another issue. It “[e]ncourages leaders at the national and local level, including traditional leaders where they exist and religious leaders, to play a more active role in sensitising communities on sexual violence to avoid marginalisation and stigmatization of victims, to assist with their social reintegration and to combat a culture of impunity for these crimes”. But traditional and religious leaders are often highly complicit in conservative attitudes, which marginalise and stigmatise male victims of sexual violence. For this reason, the implication that they simply sit back and fail to do enough may misconceive their existing role, as well as their personal attitudes to male victims of sexual violence generally. In the Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council on conflict-related sexual violence, he made a similar recommendation to Member States and regional organisations “[t]o support the engagement of religious leaders … with the objective of curbing violent extremism, preventing the justification of sexual or other violence on religious grounds and addressing the stigmatisation suffered by survivors of sexual violences”. This recommendation appears to be worded in a slightly more appropriate way.
A cynic may note that Security Council resolutions are, by their nature, typically broad in scope and worded in such a way as to secure support from a diverse number of countries and (most importantly) all five permanent members of the Security Council. At any given time, at least some member states on the Security Council are probably unwilling to discuss male victims of sexual violence in a meaningful way.
However, this has not been an insurmountable problem. The Security Council has done more for male victims of sexual violence in armed conflict through resolutions establishing ad hoc international criminal tribunals than it has through resolutions under the agenda on women, peace and security. The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (“ICTY”) has led the way in handling sexual violence in armed conflict under international law, despite the fact that it is only an ad hoc tribunal with strict geographic and temporal limits. Numerous cases before the ICTY have made specific mention of sexual violence against males during the Yugoslav Wars. For example, Prosecutor v Brđanin (Judgement), Prosecutor v Krajišnik (Judgement), and Prosecutor v Martič (Judgement) all make mention of sexual violence against males, often in the context of discussing sexual abuse or rape generally. In Prosecutor v Mucić (Judgement), the Chamber also noted that an act of forced fellatio between two men could have constituted rape “for which liability could have been found if pleaded in the appropriate manner”.
These cases have undoubtedly helped to shine light on inhuman and politically inconvenient wartime events. But it has not been smooth sailing. The current Deputy Prosecutor of the ICTY, Michelle Jarvis, has recently acknowledged that the Prosecution missed some opportunities to characterise sexual violence against males as rape. This reflects a wider issue before international criminal tribunals: the comparatively easier route of treating males as victims of torture or some form of ill-treatment other than sexual violence.
This approach follows, as a matter of course, in the judgments. For example, in Prosecutor v Tadić (Opinion and Judgement) – the very first case before the ICTY – the indictment included charges for “persecution, inhuman treatment, cruel treatment, rape … torture [and] wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body and health”. The incident in which one detainee in the Omarska Camp was forced to bite off the testicles of another detainee was subsumed by the Chamber under “inhuman treatment, wilfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body and health, cruel treatment and inhumane acts”, seemingly because it could not be classified as rape (the only charge of an explicitly sexual nature in the indictment). Although the subsumption of crimes of sexual violence under different categories may provide them with an important threshold of seriousness, it will still prevent the adequate prosecution of these offences.
Sandesh Sivakumaran, one of the first legal scholars to focus in depth on male victims of sexual violence in armed conflict, has developed an insightful framework for understanding how sexual violence against men has been handled in the ad hoc tribunals. It may have been: (i) mentioned but not characterised as sexual violence, (ii) mentioned and characterised appropriately, but without any consequences attaching or (iii) mentioned and characterised appropriately, with consequences arising therefrom. The first category would include the Tadić incident explained above, as well as an incident mentioned in Prosecutor v Simić (Judgement), where a police truncheon was rammed up the anus of a detainee. The Simić incident was explained under a sub-heading of the judgment titled “Evidence relevant to other acts”, which came under a chapter of the judgment entitled “Beatings, Torture, Forced Labour and Confinement under Inhumane Conditions”. The problem with this approach is that it does nothing to show the susceptibility of males to sexual violence, clearest when males are in detention and at their most vulnerable. The second category highlights judgements which carry the risk of insinuating that the sexual violence that occurred is not overly important when compared to other harms suffered. The third category is the clearly the most appropriate. An example is the approach taken in Prosecutor v Češić (Sentencing Judgement), which included an account of two Muslim brothers detained at Luka Camp and forced at gunpoint to perform fellatio on one another in the presence of camp guards. This incident was ultimately categorised as “sexual assault, constituting a crime against humanity (rape) and a violation of the laws or customs of war (humiliating and degrading treatment)”, to which the Accused pled guilty.
How do we explain the different approaches taken when the facts of a case show incidents of sexual violence? There is probably no satisfactory answer to this. Firstly, it must be appreciated that it was only with the creation of ad hoc tribunals in the 1990s that sexual violence was prosecuted under international law for the first time since World War II (sexual violence was not prosecuted at the Nuremberg trials, but it was at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East in Tokyo, following the “Rape of Nanking”). Secondly, attitudes towards and understanding of sexual violence against males are continuing to evolve. Thirdly, there have been 86 permanent or ad litem judges appointed to the ICTY since its inception and they have come from all corners of the world and from both sides of the traditional common law-civil law jurisdictional divide. This makes consistency in the prosecution and judgment of cases very hard to expect.
Consideration of sexual violence against males within the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda’s (“ICTR”) jurisprudence is much more limited than that of the ICTY. This could be reflective of a lower incidence of sexual violence against males during the Rwandan Genocide than during the Yugoslav Wars, but this cannot be determined with any authority in the absence of adequate information. In Prosecutor v Niyitegeka (Judgement and Sentence), an act of castration and hanging of the victim’s genitals on a spike was not characterised as sexual violence, possibly because it was deemed unnecessary to do so (given that the victim had already been killed and decapitated). Yet when dealing with the same count of the indictment, entitled “Crimes Against Humanity (Other Inhumane Acts)”, the Chamber did make mention of “sexual violence on the body of [a] dead woman”. This peculiar difference suggests an inability to conceive of castration by a male perpetrator as sexual violence. Consider also a harrowing account of the violence that occurred in a church in Prosecutor v Bagosora (Judgement and Sentence). Castration took place yet again and men (including priests and military observers) were forced to watch as women were raped and killed, with gendarmes beating the men with rifle butts if they averted their eyes. All aspects of their mistreatment in this scenario could be considered as sexual violence, but the Chamber did not treat the male experience in the same way. Although sexual violence was suffered here by men and women alike, the sexual aspect of the violence suffered by men was evidently lost in a sea of other disturbing details.
Australia has thus far played a positive role in the fight against impunity for conflict-related sexual violence. For example, the Australian government has developed a National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, to be implemented at home and overseas, in support of the UN agenda to which Resolution 1325 gave birth. But perhaps Australia can now advocate for a broader response to sexual violence, inclusive of the sexual violence that also affects males in wartime. Doing so will assist the work of any future ad hoc tribunals, possibly in South Sudan or Syria, as well as the ongoing work of the International Criminal Court.
Richard Hughes is a Juris Doctor candidate at the University of Melbourne Law School.
On 7 July 2016, during a visit to Beijing, United Nations (“UN”) the then Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Foreign Minister Wang Yi. The timing was unfortunate, owing to the imminent ruling of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (“UNCLOS”) Arbitral Tribunal on the South China Sea, handed down less than a week later. More
With the victory of Donald Trump, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (“TPP”) has literally been trumped.
As a Presidential candidate, Barack Obama came to power promising to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (“NAFTA”). As a President, a centrepiece of his administration was the proposal for the TPP, a trade agreement spanning the Pacific Rim. He argued that the trade agreement was essential for the economic and political power of the USA.
The TPP was also ambitious in terms of its membership. The agreement included NAFTA countries such as the USA, Canada, and Mexico. The deal involved Australasian nations, like Australia and New Zealand. The TPP also included South-East Asian countries, such as Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, and Japan, as well as a couple of Latin American countries such as Chile and Peru. Notably, the TPP excluded members of the BASIC/ BRICS group — such as China, India, Brazil, South Africa, and Russia. Despite its name, the TPP also ignored Pacific Island states. The political geography of the TPP was largely determined by alliances with the USA.
The TPP was sweeping in terms of its subject matter. As well as traditional matters of trade, the agreement also contained extensive prescriptive obligations in respect of intellectual property and investment. The agreement included an extensive Intellectual Property chapter, with provisions on copyright law, trademark law, patent law, and biologics. The TPP also enshrined a controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement regime (“ISDS”). Such a regime would enable corporations to challenge government decision-making in investment arbitration tribunals. The agreement also contained weak protections in respect of public health, the environment, and labour rights.
As a result of its breadth of membership, and the scope of its subject matter, the TPP was highly unstable. The agreement collapsed in the wake of the 2016 United States elections. With the collapse of the TPP, the debate over trade amongst Pacific Rim nations will shift to other arenas and fora.
The United States of America
The TPP was a key focal point in the Presidential Race.
After initially supporting the TPP, Hillary Clinton shifted her position, first to one expressing reservations about the TPP, and then to opposition to the TPP. Such a repositioning by Clinton was the result of a vigorous challenge from Bernie Sanders, and the deep opposition of the Labour Movement to the TPP.
For his part, Donald Trump promised to renegotiate the NAFTA on more favourable terms to the United States. He vowed to “withdraw from the TPP, which has not yet been ratified.” Donald Trump promised his supporters to negotiate “fair trade deals that create American jobs, increase American wages, and reduce America’s trade deficit”.
Clinton attacked Trump’s credentials, arguing that his trademarked, personalised products were manufactured outside the United States.
For his part, Donald Trump argued that Clinton would pass the TPP, if she won the election.
In the wake of the Trump victory, the White House has conceded that the TPP is doomed. Barack Obama was previously tempted to push ahead with a TPP vote in the US Congress in the lame-duck session. Now, it seems that he has conceded neither the Republicans nor the Democrats will support the TPP in the US Congress.
In retrospect, it seems a grand folly that the Obama Administration should have pushed for the TPP, in the middle of a Presidential race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Lori Wallach of Public Citizen observed:
“The TPP did not elect Trump per se. But with no small thanks to President Obama’s relentless, high-profile campaign throughout the primaries and general election to pass the pact, the TPP pact readily served as a potent symbol of business-as-usual in Washington and its facilitation of growing corporate power over every facet of our lives”.
Presciently, the documentary film-maker Michael Moore warned of a Rust-Belt Brexit against Hillary Clinton in the mid-west states of the United States. He observed that “Clintons’ support of NAFTA helped to destroy the industrial states of the Upper Midwest” and “Trump is going to hammer Clinton on this and her support of TPP and other trade policies.”
Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich has lamented that trade deals, declining unionization and market concentration created an opening for Donald Trump’s presidency. He observed that “Americans have rebelled by supporting someone who wants to fortify America against foreigners as well as foreign-made goods.” Reich acknowledged that such protectionist sentiments had created unease amongst the political and economic establishment: “The power structure understandably fears that Trump’s isolationism will stymie economic growth.”
For their part, Progressive Leaders have denied that Trump should claim credit for the demise of the TPP. Evan Geer of Fight for the Future commented:
“Let’s make one thing clear: Donald Trump didn’t kill the TPP. We did. An unprecedented grassroots movement of people and organizations from across the political spectrum came together to spark an uprising that stopped what would have been nothing less than an outright corporate takeover of our democratic process. Together we sounded the alarm, and made the TPP so politically toxic that no presidential candidate who wanted to be elected could support it.”
Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of Citizens Trade Campaign, agreed, saying:
“With peoples’ movements united across borders and across sectors, we were able to stop a power grab by some of the most powerful economic and political interests in human history.”
Digital rights defenders, the Labour Movement, and environmental and climate activists have said that the TPP collapsed in the face of concerted community action and civil society pressure.
In Australia, the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties has held hearings in respect of the TPP. This report was published by the Federal Parliament on November 30, 2016.
The Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Committee is also investigating the TPP. There have been concerns expressed about copyright law, trade mark law, patent law, and biologics in the hearings.
Moreover, the Productivity Commission has had an inquiry into Australia’s Intellectual Property Arrangements — including those related to trade.
In the wake of the Trump triumph, the Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has warned that protectionism will result in poverty. He has extolled the virtues of free trade agreements. Turnbull has emphasized that the Australian economy needs to be ‘flexible’ and ‘competitive’, but ‘fair.’
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Trade Minister Steven Ciobo have sought to defend the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (“AUSFTA”), saying that it is running a surplus in favour of the United States. The Ministers have conceded that the TPP’s future is under threat. Bishop and Ciobo have noted, though, Australia could otherwise pursue bilateral agreements with countries such as India, Indonesia, and the European Union, and regional agreements — such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
The Australian Labor Party will no doubt be relieved that the Turnbull Government cannot wedge the party with the TPP. With the Trump victory, Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten MP has shifted policy tack. He has argued that “Labor’s approach to the Australian economy is buy Australian, build Australian, employ Australians.” Shadow Minister for Finance Jim Chalmers has emphasized the need for the party to address the concerns of voters who feel trampled by the forces of globalisation and technological change. The Shadow Trade Minister Jason Clare has stressed the need for “policies that increase real wages, improve living standards, reduce under employment and reverse the rise in inequality.”
Senator Sarah Hanson-Young of the Australian Greens has said:
“It would be extremely foolish to continue down the path towards any form of enabling legislation or ratification of the TPP in Australia, considering the circumstances.”
Senator Nick Xenophon feels vindicated over his criticism of the TPP.
There have been few mourners for the end of the TPP in Australia. By and large, the agreement seemed unloved by the larger public.
It has been striking that legislators in the Parliament of Australia, civil society, and business have been deeply concerned about how the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been conducting trade negotiations. The defeat of the secretive TPP has highlighted the need for transparency, accountability, and public participation in future trade negotiations.
Even though the TPP has collapsed, there remains debate about whether a number of Pacific Rim states will implement TPP legislation, anyway. Jeremy Malcolm of the Electronic Frontier Foundation observed: “The death of the TPP in the United States does not necessarily mean that these implementation plans will be scrapped.” The TPP legislative process has been well-advanced in New Zealand, Japan, and Malaysia.
In the New Zealand Parliament, there has been debate over the implementing legislation for the TPP. New Zealand’s then Prime Minister John Key wondered whether the TPP could be passed at a later date, with cosmetic changes. Key has joked that such an agreement could be dubbed the ‘Trump Pacific Partnership’.
The Trade Minister Todd McClay maintained that the TPP would benefit New Zealand: “Trade is essential to the New Zealand way of life, our standard of living, and our potential to become a more prosperous country.”
Key has since resigned as Prime Minister, and been replaced by Bill English.
Rino Tirikatene of the New Zealand Labour Party mocked the Key Government’s enthusiasm for the TPP:
“In the great scheme of things it was a bad deal, an incredibly bad deal, and that is evidenced today by us passing a piece of legislation that will mean absolutely nothing — absolutely nothing.”
Reflecting on the impact of Trump’s victory on the TPP, he observed that:
“It is a dead deal, dead rubber, a dead duck, thanks to, I guess, the Don, the great Don, who has come in, over in the US… the TPP is dead, it is over; finito. Kia ora tātou.”
Clare Curran of the New Zealand Labour Party supported genuine intellectual property law reforms — such as the introduction of a defence of fair use in copyright law.
Gareth Hughes of the New Zealand Greens commented that the TPP was a terrible failure:
“All you can do is facepalm. Surely this is the definition of futility. The day after Trump is elected, National is passing the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement Amendment Bill. You could not write this stuff. It encapsulates what a failure and a farce this entire 7-year process has been”.
He argued that New Zealand needed to reform and modernise its intellectual property regime — particularly through the introduction of a defence of fair use in copyright law.
Professor Jane Kelsey of the University of Auckland paid tribute to the community campaign against the TPP in New Zealand:
“An unprecedented campaign against the TPP brought together Kiwis from every walk of life — doctors, musicians, local governments, Maori, the Internet community, unionists and politicians, and many tens of thousands of ordinary Kiwis who took to the streets all over the country. As we celebrate this victory, for now, we call on all our governments to abandon the failed model they continue to push in other equally toxic negotiations. We will continue to work with international allies to develop a progressive and just alternative based on the people’s needs for the 21st century, not those of the corporations”.
Professor Jane Kelsey has observed that the TPP is dead, and New Zealand needs to rethink its approach to negotiating trade agreements in the future.
In Canada, the Trudeau Government seemed quite ambivalent about the TPP — which it had inherited from the former Harper Government. Trudeau expressed a willingness to renegotiate NAFTA with the new Trump administration.
Maude Barlow, National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians, commented:
“The TPP is in full-blown cardiac arrest, thanks to years of international campaigning against this toxic deal, including turning Senate and House elections into contests over rejecting the TPP. But the one thing I know from watching trade agreements is that free trade proponents always try to resuscitate these deals under different names — CETA, TiSA and others. We need to put a ‘do not resuscitate’ order on these corporate deals once and for all”.
She warned that there would be potential for policy laundering — with the text from the TPP copied and pasted to future trade agreements.
Professor Michael Geist of the University of Ottawa has recommended that there is a need for the Canadian Government to reconsider its approach to trade negotiations:
“The public backlash against trade deals points to a process that leaves many feeling excluded and to terms that are presented publicly for the first time as final. The real opportunity for Ottawa is not just to explore new trade partners but to challenge some of the long-standing assumptions about such deals in order to foster greater public confidence in the outcome”.
Geist noted: “Mr. Trudeau’s government inherited a trade policy marked by secrecy, encroachment onto domestic regulation and little ambition to see Canadian policies reflected in the final texts”. He suggested: “The TPP’s demise offers the chance for real change by pursuing trade agreements that offer economic gains and remain true to the commitment for an open and transparent government.”
There has been much disquiet about the potential of a trade war between the United States and China over topics such as currency manipulation, domestic subsidies, and intellectual property. Former Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr, for instance, has been particularly fearful of a conflict.
In his trade policy, Donald Trump promised to use:
“[E]very lawful presidential power to remedy trade disputes if China does not stop its illegal activities, including its theft of American trade secrets — including the application of tariffs consistent with Section 201 and 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 and Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962.”
President-Elect Donald Trump could learn from the past fights between the United States and China over intellectual property. President George W. Bush brought a trade action against China over intellectual property in the World Trade Organization. By and large, China was successful in this trade dispute. President Barack Obama has sought to deploy the Department of Justice to tackle cases of trade secret violations.
For its part, China has proven to be an adroit counterpuncher in disputes over intellectual property and trade. First, China has become an intellectual property superpower. The country’s leading companies have acquired and invested in patents, trademarks, designs, and copyright across an array of high tech sectors. Second, China will scrutinise Donald Trump’s protectionist policies, and challenge anything that falls foul of the WTO rules. Finally, China will pursue its own network of trade deals in the Pacific Rim. China has already forged a bilateral trade agreement with Australia, and is pursuing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (“RCEP”). Australia has shown enthusiasm for participating in RCEP.
It remains to be seen whether Donald Trump will be able to realise his grand vision in respect of intellectual property and trade.
Dr Matthew Rimmer is a Professor in Intellectual Property and Innovation Law at the Faculty of Law in the Queensland University of Technology (QUT). He is a leader of the QUT Intellectual Property and Innovation Law research program, and a member of the QUT Digital Media Research Centre (QUT DMRC), the QUT Australian Centre for Health Law Research (QUT ACHLR), and the QUT International Law and Global Governance Research Program (QUT IL GG). Rimmer has published widely on copyright law and information technology, patent law and biotechnology, access to medicines, plain packaging of tobacco products, intellectual property and climate change, and Indigenous Intellectual Property. He is currently working on research on intellectual property, the creative industries, and 3D printing; intellectual property and public health; and intellectual property and trade, looking at the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and the Trade in Services Agreement. His work is archived at SSRN Abstracts and Bepress Selected Works.
This article was first published on Medium and is republished here with permission.
The referendum held in the United Kingdom (‘UK’) on 23 June 2016, in which Britain elected to leave the European Union (‘EU’), led to an earthquake response. The pound slumped to decade lows against the US dollar, the yield on UK bonds feel to record lows, and the Financial Times Stock Exchange 100 share index sank. Not only were the UK markets hit, but the Eurozone also felt the shockwaves, experiencing dropping share prices and market volatility.
It is likely that the aftershocks will be numerous and unpredictable. Much will depend on the relationship that the UK and EU are able to negotiate in the coming years, particularly with regard to the UK’s future access to the EU Single Market. However, this is subject to great uncertainty, as trade negotiations will take place in an environment of political and economic flux due to upcoming elections in a number of key European governments, such as Germany and France. Such changes will likely play a key role in the outcome of Brexit negotiations.
Other than UK’s negotiations with the EU concerning their future relationship, high on the UK’s agenda is its future trade and investment relationships with extra-EU countries. Concerning this, UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, and Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, have already flagged their interest in negotiating – and indeed, fast-tracking – a UK-Australia trade agreement. This article examines the legal framework and issues underlying future trade negotiations and the likely implications for Australia.
UK’s current position on trade and investment matters
As a Member State of the EU, the UK is subject to two main trade and investment restrictions arising from the EU’s exclusive competence over commercial policy matters pursuant to Article 207 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (‘TFEU’). First, its ‘intra-EU bilateral investment treaties’ (‘intra-EU BITs’), which are trade agreements between the UK and current EU Member States, were to be phased out of operation. It had been argued for some time that intra-EU BITs could be incompatible with EU law.
Second, given Article 207 of the TFEU, extra-EU relationships are exclusively within the competence of the EU, as reflected by the process of negotiations followed for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (‘TTIP’) and the recently concluded Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (‘CETA’). For the UK’s trade agreements that were concluded before 1 December 2009, the Regulation (EU) 1219/2012 of the European Parliament and the Council of 12 December 2012 establishes transitional arrangements.
Future treaties concerning trade and investment matters
The second restriction raised above poses significant ramifications for the UK concerning recently negotiated treaties and future treaties pertaining trade and investment.
Regarding recently negotiated treaties such as CETA, it is likely that these treaties would apply provisionally to the UK so long as the UK remains a Member State of the EU (Burgstaller and Zarowna, Possible Ramifications of the UK’s EU Referendum on Intra- and Extra-EU BITs (October 2016), p 572). However, the part that the UK would be able to play in current negotiations for deals such as TTIP is ambiguous.
As for negotiations with extra-EU countries, while the UK has expressed great interest in commencing trade talks with countries such as Australia and USA as soon as possible, Article 207 of the TFEU presents a significant fetter. As highlighted by Burgstaller and Zarowna (p 573), it is unlikely that the UK can commence negotiations with States with which the EU has already completed investment agreements, or are currently negotiating an investment agreement. This position has been recently flagged by Australia’s Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Steven Ciobo, who ruled out negotiating a trade agreement with the UK government until the UK’s departure from the EU has been formally completed (Payne, Australia Has Just Dealt a Massive Blow to the UK Government’s Brexit Plans (25 October 2016)). Ciobo made the statement on the basis that he had received advice telling him that entering formal talks before the completion of Brexit would be illegal.
UK-Australia Relations: Future Challenges and Opportunities
Given that the UK is an important trade and investment partner of Australia, a future trade and investment agreement is well on the cards. According to statements released by May’s government, the aim was – prior to the roadblock identified by Ciobo – to draft a UK-Australia deal for signature by 2019 (Khan, Australia Rules Out Starting Trade Negotiations (26 October 2016)). This would likely increase the trade between the two countries, which is already substantial with Australian government trade figures indicating that in 2014, Australia exported A$8.3bn to the UK and imported A$12.4bn. Further, the UK is the third largest source of foreign direct investment in Australia, and the second most popular destination for Australian foreign direct investment flows abroad (Austrade Economics, Beyond Brexit: Potential Implications for Australian Trade and Investment (July 2016), p 17).
However, despite the valuable opportunity that Australia has to strengthen ties and the positive attitudes that both governments have voiced to a potential agreement, the Australian government will need to be keenly monitoring and responsive to the continued uncertainty and shifting goal posts that the UK faces. These include:
- uncertainty concerning the relationship that the UK and the EU would adopt, and most relevantly the level of access that the UK would have to the EU’s Single Market;
- continued challenge and uncertainty over the operation of Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union (‘TEU’), which designates the process for a Member State to leave the EU, and thus severe lack of clarity as to when the UK would formally commence Brexit negotiations, let alone finish these negotiations; and
- political challenges relating to striking trade deals in the EU, as reflected in the recent issues with the finalisation of the CETA negotiations.
Though, as identified by Austrade Economics, Australia is not considered to be one of the economies most exposed to Brexit fallout, it would be prudent of Australia to keep abreast of these developments, if only to know how best to forge a future relationship with both the UK and the EU.