Secret international financial services negotiations will open up new opportunities for Australian businesses in Asia, according to the government, but the opposition has raised concern about the ability of Australian governments to protect consumers under the agreement.
Responding to a leaked draft of the financial services chapter of the 50-nation Trade in Services Agreement published by WikiLeaks and Fairfax Media, Trade Minister Andrew Robb said the negotiations would ''open up new opportunities'' and advance business interests, ''particularly in the growing markets of Asia''.
Only four of the 50 negotiating parties are in Asia: Japan, South Korea, Chinese Taipei and Pakistan.
The big Asian markets in which Australia is interested - India, China and south-east Asia are missing, although they may later join in.
The draft published by WikiLeaks requires signatories including Australia, the US and the European Union to each allow in each other's banks and financial institutions and to allow them to take over domestic institutions.
Australia might partially escape the requirement to automatically approve foreign takeovers if its existing law limiting individual shareholders to 15 per cent of financial institutions is ''grandfathered'' in later refinements to the text.
''We are certainly not going to enter into any agreement that undermines our world-class domestic banking and financial services sector,'' Mr Robb said. ''Why would we?''
Labor treasury spokesman Chris Bowen said he was concerned the agreement could restrict the ability of Australian governments to protect consumers and ensure the stability of the financial system.
''The global financial crisis demonstrated the need for regulatory flexibility,'' he said.
''Labor is also concerned that the Abbott government is adopting a position that pre-empts the outcomes of the financial system inquiry, which the Treasurer established last December.''
Labor itself began the negotiations last year.
The text published by WikiLeaks is dated April 14, 2014, and so reflects the Coalition's position.
The Greens have introduced a bill into the Senate that would ban so-called investor-state dispute settlement clauses of the type included in the leaked draft.
The clauses establish outside tribunals which can declare decisions made by sovereign governments invalid.
Greens trade spokesman Peter Whish-Wilson rejected suggestions the provisions were needed to give Australian firms a foothold in Asia.
''I have taught international finance for a decade and I can tell you that banks such as ANZ are profitably expanding into Asia without these provisions,'' he said.
Earlier this year, Indonesia announced plans to terminate all 67 of its trade agreements that included investor-state dispute settlement clauses.
The story Banking expansion into Asia needs trade deal, says Robb first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.