WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT), Co-Chairs of the Congressional Friends of Australia Caucus, led a bipartisan group of Representatives in writing to President Joe Biden and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai encouraging the Biden Administration to reduce digital trade barriers between the U.S. and Australia, and to build upon and improve the existing trade agreement between our two democracies.
Following the announcement of the historic AUKUS security alliance, and at a time when many U.S. allies and regional partners are facing increased threats stemming from Chinese economic coercion, Courtney and Gallagher led the delegation in pressing for a new path forward on trade between the democracies of America and Australia—one that will lead to mutual prosperity, strengthen our strategic alliance, and benefit all like-minded nations across the Indo-Pacific region.
“This is a crucial moment for the alliance,” the Members wrote. “The AUKUS security partnership represents a once in a generation opportunity to continue strengthening America’s bonds with Australia. Sharing nuclear propulsion technology with Australia—something the U.S. has only done once before—is an unequivocal demonstration of our commitment to the region and our ally. Yet we must continue to advance this momentum.
“At a time when many allies and partners in the region are facing increased threats stemming from attempted Chinese economic coercion, we urge your administration to engage with Australia to build on our 2005 Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in consultation with Congress. […] An improved digital agreement would serve as an effective method to better connect like-minded nations with free market economies at a time of accelerating commercial digitization, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The members provided specific examples of how commerce and exchange between the U.S. and Australia has already been dampened by the fragmented global playing field of digital transactions. In one instance, U.S. citizens who wanted to donate online to charitable organizations assisting with Australian wildfire relief efforts were unable to do so because of digital barriers. Australian citizens have also faced difficulty accessing U.S. markets due to incompatible electronic payment systems.
“Currently, international digital transactions are greatly hindered by fragmented, nation by nation ‘rules of the road,’ that can make even small purchases by consumers and small businesses difficult. Minister Tehan shared with us an example in which U.S. citizens who wanted to donate by credit card to charitable groups helping with Australian wildfire relief efforts in 2020 could not do so because of on the digital barriers between our two countries. Additionally, Australian consumers face challenging in accessing our markets due to incompatible electronic payment systems, emphasizing the importance of invoice systems that are capable of concurrently docking with each other. Not only do individual consumers and small to medium-sized entities struggle with fragmented digital trade, but these groups are at increased risk for cyber hacking and privacy breaches as well. Given the U.S.-Australia Free Trade Agreement, the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence alliance, and now AUKUS, it is clear that digital trade barriers with Australia stand in the way of the national interest.”
Finally, Reps. Gallagher and Courtney offered a path forward—a model to build from in working to build upon and improve the existing trade agreement between the U.S. and Australia:
“In 2020, Australia entered into a Digital Economy Agreement with Singapore, another key partner in the region. Although we understand the limitations of entering into any single-issue based trade agreement with another nation, we believe that the Australia-Singapore Digital Economy Agreement provides a strong template to work from. We firmly believe that continuing this economic engagement will attract bipartisan support and put our nation at the forefront of a free, open, and prosperous Indo-Pacific. A high standards U.S.-Australia data sharing and security agreement could serve as a model throughout the region, setting clear expectations when it comes to insulating data from the Chinese government and its thinly veiled proxies such as Huawei. In time, other nations in the region may even choose to join or ‘dock’ onto the agreement.
“Although future engagement with Australia should not be limited solely to the digital sphere, digital trade and data standards are increasingly vital subjects throughout the region. We would welcome the opportunity to engage with you on this and other topics that could be of benefit to the US-Australia alliance and all like-minded nations across the Indo-Pacific.
“We stand ready to assist in such an endeavor.”
Reps. Gallagher and Courtney have worked together for years as founding members of the Congressional Friends of Australia Caucus, the go-to group in Congress for interaction between the Australian and U.S. governments. In writing to USTR Tai and President Biden, they were joined by Representatives Steve Cohen (D-TN-09), Ed Case (D-HI-01), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-08), Jim Costa (D-CA-16), Jim Himes (D-CT-05), John Larson (D-CT-01), Ed Perlmutter (D-CO-07), and Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH-16).
To read the members’ full letter, click here.