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April 14, 2011

Australia government's new investment rules: offshore no more

Australia's government broke new ground with its recent commitment to move away from the controversial investor-state system. In the Julia Gillard government's trade policy statement, it wrote:

Some countries have sought to insert investor-state dispute resolution clauses into trade agreements. Typically these clauses empower businesses from one country to take international legal action against the government of another country for alleged breaches of the agreement, such as for policies that allegedly discriminate against those businesses and in favour of the country’s domestic businesses.

The Gillard Government supports the principle of national treatment – that foreign and domestic businesses are treated equally under the law. However, the Government does not support provisions that would confer greater legal rights on foreign businesses than those available to domestic businesses. Nor will the Government support provisions that would constrain the ability of Australian governments to make laws on social, environmental and economic matters in circumstances where those laws do not discriminate between domestic and foreign businesses. The Government has not and will not accept provisions that limit its capacity to put health warnings or plain packaging requirements on tobacco products or its ability to continue the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

In the past, Australian Governments have sought the inclusion of investor-state dispute resolution procedures in trade agreements with developing countries at the behest of Australian businesses. The Gillard Government will discontinue this practice. If Australian businesses are concerned about sovereign risk in Australian trading partner countries, they will need to make their own assessments about whether they want to commit to investing in those countries. [emphasis added]

The last point is fantastic: why should any government be in the business of facilitating offshore investment? That's what insurance markets are for.

Now, the government just has to stick to its guns in the Trans-Pacific FTA talks.

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