The UK yesterday launched talks with Australia and New Zealand on free-trade agreements, with Canberra’s top trade official voicing hope that a deal could be reached this year.
“Later today, Australia and the United Kingdom will formally commence free-trade negotiations,” Australian Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham said in a speech highlighting the nation’s drive to diversify trade as it is locked in disputes with China.
The British government has heralded its departure from the EU as an opportunity to deepen trade relations with global partners.
While talks have already taken place, formal negotiations had been delayed until the UK left the bloc in January.
However, Birmingham said that even with an Australia-UK deal, volumes were unlikely to return to those seen in the 1970s — before the UK joined the European Economic Community and when its trade was focused on its former colonies.
“Australia will be looking to secure better market access for goods exports, especially in agriculture, and high-standard rules on digital trade and investment,” Birmingham said.
Talks on an Australia-EU trade deal are already under way and Birmingham said that Canberra would also like to conclude them this year, but he added that would be a tough task with negotiations on several trade agreements taking place simultaneously.
Separate negotiations commenced in Wellington, where British High Commissioner Laura Clarke said that it made sense to deal with Australia and New Zealand at the same time, given their close economic ties.
While not mentioning China by name, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that Wellington was also aiming to broaden its range of trading partners.
“Our policy in the here and now is to strengthen New Zealand’s economy and resilience through diversification,” Ardern said.
Birmingham refused to say whether Australia would prioritize a deal with the EU or the UK.
“The EU is a much bigger market, and notwithstanding Brexit it remains a much bigger market, but that does not mean the UK is not a significant market,” he said. “I don’t have favored children in that regard and I want to love them both equally.”
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