This article was first published by news.com.au | September 7, 2016
AUSTRALIAN and UK officials will begin scoping out what a free-trade agreement between the two countries will look like, following key post-Brexit talks in London.
The high-level group will meet twice a year beginning in 2017 to discuss how an “ambitious and comprehensive” deal could work, according to a joint statement from the Australian and UK trade ministers, Steven Ciobo and Liam Fox.
But Mr Ciobo said a UK deal won’t take precedence over others already in the pipeline with Indonesia and the EU.
“I did indicate Indonesia was our top priority that is true and that’s because of where we are in that process,” he told an audience at Asia House in London. “But there’s a myriad of interests … that I’m not going to put into a league table.”
Earlier, the Queensland MP said Australia had significant experience with heavyweight free trade agreements having signed them with Japan and Korea.
“But the fact is, an Australia-UK negotiation of a FTA may be a few years off. Your processes to disengage with the EU will take years — years of potential liberalisation we can’t afford to let slip. Certainly, none of our competitors will,” he said.
“So we’re working on an Australia-EU FTA, which will prepare the way for our own agreement in years to come.”
“The best deal is a deal that is done most quickly so discussions with the EU are more advanced than they are with the UK.”
The formation of the working group comes after Prime Ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Theresa May said they are committed to striking a free-trade deal between the two countries at the G20 summit in China on Monday.
A statement from the UK and Australian trade ministries said it will “ensure the expeditious transition to FTA negotiations when the UK has formally completed its negotiations to exit the EU.”
However that’s complicated by the fact Britain is not permitted to negotiate separate arrangements with other states while it remains a member of the EU. The country is also grappling with what the terms of the Brexit will look like with key questions around freedom of movement and services remaining unanswered.
While Japan has published a list of demands for what it would like to see from Brexit, Mr Ciobo would not be drawn on what Australia thinks the new UK-EU relationship should look like.
“I’m not going to start lecturing the UK about what they should do in that respect,” he said.
“We did have conversations about some of the options available to the UK and what those might entail and what they might canvas. Ultimately that’s the domain of the Brits obviously they’ll make those decisions and determine what suits them but we’re going to work alongside them as a partner.”
The June 23 decision that shocked the UK political establishment has already complicated things for Australian businesses operating in the UK.
Tower Transit CEO Neil Smith, whose Australian family-owned company is contracted to deliver five per cent of routes on London’s iconic red buses, said the vote has significantly changed their company focus towards international markets instead.
Trade Minister Steven Ciobo with the CEO of Tower Transit, Neil Smith.
“We moved to the UK thinking we were entering a market of 500 million. Now we find we’re in a market of 60 million, that’s a bit disappointing.”
“But rather than a headquarters of European business we see it as a headquarters of an international business,” he said, adding that the company has used its London experience to springboard into Singapore.
Mr Ciobo said the Australia-owned business that employs 1700 staff is a “great success story” of how Australian innovation is making waves overseas.
“Red buses are iconic in London and who would have thought it was an Australian company?” he said.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Defence Minister Marise Payne are also in Europe for high level talks with German and EU ministers this week.
To see this article in its orginal location, please click here.