AFTINET is a national network of over 90 community organisations and many more individuals concerned about trade and investment policy.

AFTINET grew out of the successful campaign by community organisations against the Multilateral Agreement on Investment [MAI], which had attempted to restrict the ability of governments to regulate both investment and key areas of social policy.

The collapse of the 1999 Seattle World Trade Organisation [WTO] Ministerial Meeting and of the 2003 Cancun WTO Ministerial Meeting showed that the world trading system is failing to meet the needs of developing countries for fairer trade rules which do not erode social policies. Community organisations have continued the debate about international trade agreements and have demanded greater accountability by the Australian government for its role in the WTO and bilateral trade agreements like the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement.

AFTINET supplies education materials, regular bulletins and speakers at public events. We make submissions to government and opposition parties to change Australian trade policy. We form links with similar organisations in other countries to argue for different and fairer rules for international trade and investment.

Principles

There is widespread concern that current trade policy gives priority to the flow of goods, services, investment and finance at the expense of local development, protection of the environment and human rights.

Trade agreements can restrict the scope of legitimate government regulation in many areas. Under the guise of deregulation and free trade, regulatory powers are in fact transferred to international institutions beyond the reach of democratic accountability.

Trade disputes processes, conducted behind closed doors, have defined environmental regulation, food safety regulation, and local industry policies as barriers to trade. These decisions can be enforced through trade sanctions.

There is a wealth of international law developed through the United Nations [UN] on human rights, labour rights, cultural development, rights of indigenous people, the environment and health and safety. UN processes are more transparent and accountable than those of the WTO, and its agreements are enacted through domestic legislation in each member country. In some cases WTO disputes processes have undermined established principles recognised in international environment and health law such as the precautionary principle, that is, the right to restrict potential dangers to health and environment.

Thus trade processes can deliver favourable trade and investment conditions for some corporations but foster a race to the bottom on regulatory standards.

Developing country government and non-government organisations have criticised the lack of transparency of WTO process and its domination by the governments of the most powerful economies.

We reject a fortress Australia” protectionist strategy and welcome the development of fair trading relationships with all countries. However we believe that trade and investment policy should be based on local conditions and fair regulatory standards and should be decided through democratically accountable processes.

Aims & Objectives

* a critical re-assessment of the WTO and other trade structures and dispute processes;

* greater public discussion and accountability for government trade policy and for international trade negotiation processes;

* a trade and investment framework which does not erode local ability to regulate on issues of economic development