Intersecting trade, politics and human rights: the negotiation phase of the australia-china free trade agreement

Jadranka Petrovic, Benjamin Grunberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


This article concerns a free trade agreement (FTA) between Australia and China signed on 17 June 2015. It has been acclaimed that this agreement lays the foundation for the next phase of Australia’s economic relationship with China and predicted that it will unlock significant opportunities for Australia as China is Australia’s largest export market for both goods and services, accounting for nearly a third of total exports, and a growing source of foreign investment. However, concerns have been expressed that the Australia-China Free Trade Agreement is likely to have a number of retrogressive effects on the protection and promotion of human rights, including labour standards. This article explores differences between the free trade agreement negotiating precepts and cultures of China and Australia and the status of human rights in those negotiations, with an emphasis on understanding representative Australian attitudes. Although those negotiations are now a faint accompli, they are nevertheless of great interest. The article’s focus on the fate of human rights in the negotiation phase of the Australia-China Free Trade Agreement from the Australian perspective, together with the dynamics and nuances of the negotiation process giving rise to the Agreement, provides timely and significant insight on the implementation process, as well as a lesson-learned for future free-trade negotiations. The article argues that human rights should not be overlooked in the negotiations that lead to a free trade agreement. The article comprises seven parts. Section 1 introduces the subject-matter. Section 2 provides a historical overview of trade relations between Australia and China. Section 3 considers the complexity of negotiations between the two States and their different expectations and approaches. Section 4 outlines Australia’s major international human rights obligations including labour standards. Section 5 highlights specific human rights concerns raised in Australia during the Australia-China Free Trade Agreement negotiations. Section 6 observes other States’ approaches to human rights issues when negotiating their FTAs with China. Section 7 concludes that robust safeguards must be embedded and that a close consideration should be given to the implementation process, including the ex post human rights impact assessment of the Australia- China Free Trade Agreement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-104
Number of pages38
JournalJournal of World Trade
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, human rights

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