Trade Minister Don Farrell has outlined an ambitious plan to finalise a free trade deal with the European Union by mid-2023, declaring he wants the deal done “as quickly as we can”.
New Zealand signed off on a deal with the EU less than two weeks ago, but Australia’s negotiations with the bloc, a huge market of more than 440 million people, had stalled after French President Emmanuel Macron delayed discussions in his fury over the cancelled submarines contract.
Trade Minister Don Farrell is looking to do a free trade agreement with the European Union.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen
In an interview with The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, Farrell said: “I’d like to have an agreement by mid-2023 and the prime minister would too.”
Last month, ahead of a series of meetings in the EU, Australia’s second-largest trading partner, Farrell said he was “optimistic” of a deal by the end of the year, but the deal would require approval from the EU’s peak council and parliament.
Farrell is now confident the deal can be finalised in 12 months and that in a recent meeting with the French trade representative in Geneva, “they seem to have put the Naval [submarine contract] debacle behind them and are keen to progress the discussions, which have been stalled over two issues”.
“One was our position on climate change and the other was the perceived insult over the Naval decision. There was an inaudible sigh of relief from some of these countries that there has been change of government.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese had raised the issue with both Macron and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez during meetings, and Farrell says, “all of the feedback has been very positive”.
A delegation of European parliamentarians will come to Australia in September to discuss the deal ahead of the next major round of negotiations on October 17.
Farrell will have to persuade politicians representing the bloc’s 27 countries that Australia’s green bona fides are genuine, while navigating the continent’s protectionist trade legislation and the parliament’s many groupings.
Australia is seeking bigger export quotas for beef, lamb and dairy exports – which is likely to be a sticking point for some EU members – while the bloc also wants new rules that would stop Australian food producers using European geographic names such as parmesan cheese and Parma ham.
Farrell confirmed there were a number of sticking points. “From the European point of view, there is still concern about allowing access to our agricultural products, and from our point of view it’s the use of European geographic identity names on our cheese and wine,” he said.
“Critical minerals will be an important part of the discussion too. I get the sense that just as we had too many eggs in the China basket in the past, the Europeans feel similarly that they don’t want to find themselves in a situation where they are too reliant on one market.”
Even at the height of the pandemic in 2020, total trade between Australia and the EU was worth $94 billion: $54.6 billion in goods, with services worth another $39.4 billion.
The EU’s head of trade and economics in Australia, Cornelis Keijzer, recently said the bloc wanted to turn to Australia for greater supply of critical raw materials including lithium, cobalt and iron ore and to move away from being reliant on Russia for these resources.
Customs tariffs on good entering Australia from Europe also remain a sticking point, according to Keijzer, but when asked about this, Farrell said: “all the signs are heading the right direction, there is plenty of hard bargaining to be done.”
EU trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis recently told the Herald and The Age that a deal could be reached next year but warned that climate change targets would have to be part of the outcome, which could potentially expose Australia to sanctions if it failed to honour pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The Albanese government plans to legislate a 43 per cent cut in emissions, against 2005 levels, by 2030.
This level is below the EU’s 55 per cent target, against 1990 levels, by 2030 but Dombrovskis said the target of net zero emissions by 2050 was the more significant goal.
Cut through the noise of federal politics with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up to our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here.
Most Viewed in Politics
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article