22 Jan

'Canberra wants UK free-trade deal ASAP' Rosie Lewis, The Australian

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has told Britain that Australia will begin formal post-Brexit negotiations on a free-trade agreement “the second Britain is ready”, signalling the Morrison government wants a deal progressed before the likely May election.

In his first visit to Britain as Trade Minister, Senator Birmingham used a speech in London to the Australian British Chamber of Com­merce to notify one of Australia’s closest allies that an FTA could be done quickly and could set a new benchmark for trade deals.

The Coalition has clinched six trade deals since forming government in 2013, including with China and Japan, but Brexit has left the Australia-UK FTA under a cloud.

 

“The second Britain is ready, Australia stands ready to launch formal negotiations for an ­Australia-UK free-trade agreement. We moved quickly to establish a bilateral trade working group and we have been working together to realise our shared goal of an FTA through constant dialogue and scoping discussions,” Senator Birmingham said, according to an extract of his speech.

“It should be an ambitious and comprehensive free-trade agreement, covering goods, services and investment. It should be an exemplar for open, liberalised markets. It should be a modern agreement, encompassing the best in e-commerce and digital trade provisions.

“We should show the world how quickly yet effectively it can be negotiated, seeking to conclude and sign as rapidly as possible.”

With British Prime Minister Theresa May set to announce her next steps to try to deliver a Brexit deal, Senator Birmingham also sent a message home — insisting an “immediate priority” for the government was to ensure Australian businesses were well-­positioned to navigate the risks and opportunities of a post-Brexit world. Australia and Britain have replicated trade agreements made with the EU in a bid to continue exports and imports post-Brexit, as concerns grow over the effect the trade war between China and the US will have on the global economy.

Last week, Australia and Britain signed new wine and mutual recognition agreements to ensure Australia’s winemaking techniques and common testing requirements for medical devices, machinery and automotive products were recognised.

“Brexit, though a matter for the UK, is an opportunity for our two countries to reinvigorate our bilateral co-operation and trade links. It is an opportunity Australia wants to seize and seize quickly,” Senator Birmingham said.

Since 2013 the percentage of Australia’s trade enjoying preferential access into export markets under negotiated FTAs has increased from 26 per cent to 70 per cent. Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29.

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