Prof. Joanna Harrington appears before Australian Parliament

Expertise given at Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth

Benjamin Lof - 31 October 2023

Professor Joanna Harrington of the University of Alberta Faculty of Law appeared remotely as an expert witness before the Parliament of Australia's Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth at its public hearing in Canberra on October 20.

The committee is holding an inquiry into the Australian Government's approach to negotiating trade agreements, and they welcomed Harrington, whose expertise includes foreign relations law and the law of treaties, to share her opinions on comparable experience in Canada.

The inquiry’s focus is on how the Australian Government develops a negotiating mandate and framework for trade and investment treaties that reflects federal, state and territory government priorities, as well as stakeholder priorities, including processes for consultation. It is also considering how First Nations Australians can participate and benefit in trade.

Having made a written submission, Harrington was invited to appear before the Committee.

During her testimony, Harrington answered several rounds of questions from parliamentarians, sharing her perspective on recent Canadian practices including the government’s disclosure of initial environmental assessments and gender based analysis-plus assessments during trade agreement negotiations.

She also made note of the general shift that has taken place towards embracing greater transparency at least for trade negotiations, referencing her past work on a perceived democratic deficit in the making of international treaties by the executive branch.

“[Previously] the space for public and parliamentary scrutiny of new treaties was thought to exist after the completion of negotiations but before the ratification of a new treaty by the executive branch… [Now] the times have changed, and with a focus… on the negotiation stage,” says Harrington.

One parliamentarian asked for details on recent changes to Canada’s treaty tabling policy, referred to as ‘enhanced transparency requirements’ by Canadian government ministers.

“[The recent change is] focused on trade treaties and… includes three things,” replied Harrington. “There's a notice of intent to enter into negotiations. Then there is a description of the objectives of those negotiations that are tabled. The third thing which will accompany the implementation legislation is an economic impact assessment.”

While this is the first time Harrington has stood before a committee of the Australian Parliament, she has previously appeared at committees in Canada's House of Commons and Senate, and before the UK Parliament's International Agreements Committee in the House of Lords.