The Group of Eight (Go8), representing Australia’s leading research-intensive universities, is pleased to have the invaluable opportunity to comment on the Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth (JSCTIG) inquiry into the Australian Government’s approach to negotiating trade and investment agreements.
Please note that this submission represents the views of the Go8 network, and member universities may choose to make their own submissions.
The Go8 consents for this submission to be published in full.
At the outset, the Go8 is of the strong view that whilst trade and investment agreements are often seen (and negotiated) in a ‘transactional’ context, their value must not be underestimated when it comes to ensuring the robustness of our ‘knowledge’ trade.   
The Go8 recognises the significant impact of these agreements on research and researcher agreements, and knows what they can deliver for an economy, its productivity and jobs growth.
They build upon our capacity to engage extensively with international partners, in our region, and around the world. There is no doubt that Government level agreements – such as economic partnerships and FTAs – provide a solid signal of Australia’s willingness to engage with the wider community. They facilitate the development of stronger relationships and in complex geopolitical times, they are a high-level symbol of Australia’s commitment to our regional partners.
Our globally ranked universities are an asset to be drawn upon, not ignored.  They are central driver of Australia’s productivity.  
The Go8 member universities:[1]
As noted in previous submissions on individual Free Trade negotiations, this success reflects our extensive international connections, both within our region and around the globe.
International connections underpin higher education and research excellence in a number of ways:
In this context, FTA Agreements are an important signal between two Governments of their willingness to engage.
Research and innovation are the foundations of economic and industry success in an increasingly technologically driven 21st century.
The Go8 contends that trade deals that support  ‘knowledge’ trade via Research and Development  and Innovation can only help Australia in securing its place as global leader in these areas. In turn these ‘knowledge trade routes’ attract inward investment into Australia and support our capacity to develop and secure critical technologies with likeminded, values aligned countries.
Our research intensive universities must be part of early conversations during the development stages of FTA’s and are ready to work with government to ensure new and revised agreements build on Australia’s strategic advantage, particularly in areas such as critical minerals and green energy.
Underpinning ‘knowledge trade routes’ are people. FTA’s have a role to play in creating thepathways for increasing  two way flow of talent, including  greater PhD mobility.
The 2023 Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement
The 2023 Australia-United Kingdom Free Trade Agreement should be the template for all future agreements.  For the   first time ever a Trade Agreement included an ‘Innovation’ Chapter. The Go8 strongly supports this significant step change, which includes the recognition of universities within the Innovation Chapter as key collaborators in the innovation system, and the FTA’s commitment to further strengthen these collaborations.[4]
As this was the first inclusion of an Innovation Chapter in an FTA, it comes as no surprise that there is much work to be done on the mechanisms for operationalisation.  The Go8 looks forward to working with the Government to support the establishment of the Strategic Innovation Dialogue which we understand will be established in the next six months, and providing advice and assistance on operationalising the intent of the Innovation Chapter.
The ongoing negotiation of an Australia-European Union FTA provides an opportunity to include an Innovation Chapter. Europe is a global leader in research and innovation. Indeed the European Commission has identified ‘Innovation’ as integral to many of its priorities, and ‘this means that a much greater effort is needed to create the ecosystems that encourage innovation, research and development (R&D), and entrepreneurship.’ However, in the absence of an FTA, and in parallel, Australia is very close to missing the opportunity to engage with Europe as a third country associate to Horizon Europe[5], the European Commission research and innovation funding program with a budget of €95.5 billion.  The Go8, together with the European Australian Business Council, The AI Group and the Australian Academy of Science have jointly written to the Minister for Industry and Science, Hon Ed Husic, requesting that the Government reconsider the case for an association to Horizon Europe.
[4] Innovation Chapter 20-3(3).