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UK Economics

Britain and Australia talk post-Brexit FTA to the EU’s irritation Nick Miller

London: Senior officials from Australia and Britain will meet soon to begin planning an “ambitious and comprehensive” free trade agreement between the UK and Australia.

The agreement to establish a ‘bilateral trade working group’ was announced on Tuesday after a meeting in London between Australian trade minister Steve Ciobo and Britain’s secretary of state for international trade Liam Fox.

Post Brexit deal making
Malcolm Turnbull has met with British PM Theresa May to discuss a post Brexit free trade agreement. Courtesy ABC News 24, Reuters.
The working group will set out an agenda to “ensure the expeditious transition to FTA negotiations when the UK has formally completed its negotiations to exit the EU”, the two ministers said in a joint statement.

“Both of us want a future FTA to generate new trade and investment opportunities,” they said.

 

“This initiative reflects a strong political commitment by Australia and the UK to take a leadership role in advocating for global trade liberalisation and reform,” the statement said.

The trade deal was discussed by prime ministers Theresa May and Malcolm Turnbull in the wings of the G20 summit in China this weekend.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull met with his British counterpart Theresa May in Hangzhou on the sidelines of ...
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull met with his British counterpart Theresa May in Hangzhou on the sidelines of the G20. Photo: Sanghee Liu


However it provoked anger from the EU, with European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker saying the UK must not negotiate for itself while still an EU member.

The UK has not yet activated the treaty clause that triggers a two-year exit process from the EU, though Mrs May has insisted publicly that “Brexit means Brexit” and the clause will be activated some time in 2017.

British Prime Minister Theresa May during their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 economic summit in China.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, second left, meets British Prime Minister Theresa May during their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G20 economic summit in Hangzhou, China. Photo: AP


While the UK is still officially part of the EU, other member countries have already set up informal meetings to discuss issues without the UK.

Mr Ciobo said the trade deal was a “terrific opportunity” and he had a “positive and cordial” meeting with Dr Fox discussing what it might look like.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, second left, meets British Prime Minister Theresa May during their bilateral ...
British Prime Minister Theresa May during their bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 economic summit in China. Photo: AP


“I am very confident we will be able to find a pathway forward that reflects the real strength and political goodwill between the Theresa May and Malcolm Turnbull governments,” he said.

“Brexit is a real opportunity for Australia to forge that relationship with the UK even more strongly.”

The UK cannot negotiate on a free trade agreement until it formally exits the EU, however “we have had very important conversations today about what we could do in the interim,” he said.

He refused to be drawn on specifics of a free trade deal, saying it was too early to talk about “which sectors might have to make what sacrifices”.

But he was confident that Australia could build on its historical and political ties with the UK to make sure it was well advanced in the queue of countries seeking trade deals with a post-EU Britain.

Mr Ciobo is in Brussels on Thursday to assess progress on a free trade deal with the EU. The ‘scoping study’ for the deal was nearly finished, he said, and he hopes that by the first half of next year they will formally begin negotiations.

http://www.smh.com.au/world/britain-and-australia-talk-postbrexit-fta-to-the-eus-irritation-20160906-grad64.html

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