09 Apr

'British minister flags free-trade deal with Australia' Charlie Peel, The Australian

Britain’s Investment Minister, Graham Stuart, ­believes there is a “very high likelihood” that a free-trade agreement will be struck ­between Australia and Britain within the next few years.

Speaking to The Weekend Australian yesterday at the end of his visit to the Gold Coast for the Commonwealth Games, Mr ­Stuart said Australia was a high priority as Britain moved to leave the EU and focused on bilateral trade.

Mr Stuart said that despite concerns about the impact of Brexit on Australia it could ­actually prove an “enormous economic opportunity”.

A free-trade agreement ­between Australia and Britain, which share in $24 billion in ­annual trade, could also lead to more relaxed visa controls ­between the two countries.

Mr Stuart said mutual trust ­between the two nations could make it easier to navigate a deal through complex issues such as agricultural protection.

“It’s fair to say Australia is a top priority for us and I know from speaking to (Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull) that it is a top priority for Australia as well,” he said.

Following the 2016 referendum to leave the EU, which comes into effect on March 29 next year, Britain was given leave to negotiate, agree and ratify a trade agreement outside the union for the first time in more than 40 years. “After the vote on the European referendum, the first country in the world we set up a trade working group with was indeed Australia,” Mr Stuart said.

“We are really pleased with the discussions that have gone on so far. We will have another meeting of the trade working group shortly, building on the previous ones.”

Mr Stuart said Mr Turnbull’s proactive approach, Britain’s ­increasingly post-Brexit “global outlook”, and the close trade, ­security and geopolitical relationships between the two nations meant a deal was likely.

“We couldn’t be closer to ­Australia in terms of a whole combination of things, not only built on a great existing trade relationship but security and other aspects as well as common geopolitical views,” Mr Stuart said. “So I would say there is a very high likelihood.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May established the Department of International Trade, which Mr Stuart leads, after the Brexit decision, as a commitment to build a more global Britain.

During his time in Australia this week Mr Stuart has met ­national and state government ministers to discuss trade opportunities and will continue those talks at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London on April 19.

A previous advocate of staying with the EU, Mr Stuart said short-term fears had not been realised and key economic indicators showed Britain was headed in the right direction.

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