Australia-UAE Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA)

Policies, Publications & Submissions - April 12, 2024

The Australian Union movement is deeply concerned at the announcement by Minister Farrell on 13 December 2023 that the Australian Government will commence negotiations with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for a trade agreement (Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement).

The ACTU supports fair trade as a vehicle for economic growth, job creation, tackling inequality and raising living standards. The most important objective of trade policy should be to deliver benefits to workers, the community and the economy by increasing opportunities for local businesses, creating quality local jobs, and protecting public services. The benefits of trade must be shared among our community, and promote equitable development abroad.

The Australian Union movement strongly believes the Government should not give preferential market access to countries with poor labour rights practices. Given the UAE’s notorious record on human rights – including workers’ rights – we call on the Albanese Government to not proceed with these negotiations unless and until the UAE takes concrete steps to safeguard workers’ rights.

Most recently there has been a global focus on the UAE with the holding of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in December 2023; yet in the lead up to COP28, despite the whole world watching, the Government refused to undertake any meaningful reforms. Indeed, the site where COP28 was held was built and staffed by workers who were abused and subject to forced labour.

We note that the UAE would be the most repressive country an Australian Government – Labor or Coalition – has ever done a bilateral trade agreement with. The Australian Union movement is deeply concerned that negotiating a trade agreement with the UAE sends the signal of Australia legitimising and incentivising continued violations of labour and human rights. In our view it is unacceptable that a Labor Government, which has recently introduced industrial relations reforms to better protect the rights of Australian workers, reforms to the migration system to protect migrant workers, and reforms to combat modern slavery throughout global supply chains, would contemplate closer economic ties with a country that does not even enable independent trade unions to operate. The ALP platform makes the commitment for Australia’s trade agreements to be consistent with Australia’s social and economic values and provide for minimum and enforceable labour standards. It is our view that respect for workers’ rights and human rights must be a precondition of a preferential trading relationship.

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