Interview on 3WM, Country Today, with Libby Price.
Topics: EU trade deal, potential deal with UK after Brexit, geographical indicators
Libby Price: It’s been more than a year since negotiations for a free trade agreement with the European Union began. Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham is in regional Victoria, meeting with agriculture leaders and farmers to brief them on the progress of negotiations. Mr Birmingham is speaking here with Country Today’s Lois Chislett.
Simon Birmingham: We have very active negotiations underway with the European Union. It’s a big market for us, very important, second largest two-way trading partner overall. And of course it’s a market of more than 500 million consumers. But Australian businesses and farmers in particular face some real barriers to entry to the EU market. It’s still [indistinct]- fight quotas in a number of product, high tariffs elsewhere. And so what we’re really working here is to try to get a better deal, better access for our farmers and businesses into the future.
Reporter: So what areas of agriculture are being negotiated?
Simon Birmingham: Well everything is on the table. That’s what happens in a proper free trade agreement negotiation. It certainly is an agreement that will stretch well beyond agriculture, but agriculture is crucial, especially for Australia. If you take for example the sheep meat sector, as one where Australia has a very poor deal – New Zealand has a quota of around 250,000 tonnes per annum. Yet Australia has a quota of just 20,000 tonnes per annum. And then it’s replicated in a number of other sectors. So it’s critical that we do make sure that we get better, fairer, access for all of our farmers, all of our businesses into this huge market.
Reporter: And Simon, what would happen with the agreement if the UK does eventually leave the EU?
Simon Birmingham: So presently, we are negotiating with the EU, and were the UK to stay a member of the EU, well then we would ultimately hope to secure a trade agreement with all 28 member states of the EU. But if we assume that the UK is on its way out, as their policy position is to do so, well then these negotiations continue, it will conclude with the 27 remaining member states of the EU. It will still be a very significant trading partners for Australia. And separately just last week, I hosted the British Minister for International Trade in Canberra, and we make very clear commitments there that when Brexit occurs – assuming it does – that we will move very swiftly into formal trade agreement negotiations with the United Kingdom.
Reporter: So negotiations have been going on for a year now. When are you expecting the deal to be completed?
Simon Birmingham: Our ambition is to try to conclude negotiations with the EU by the end of next year. Now as I said before, that will depend entirely on whether it’s a good deal, a deal that is clearly in Australia’s overall national interest to pursuit. But our determination is to work as hard as we can to bring about conclusion of those negotiations, so that our farmers who’ve done such an impressive job at taking advantage of new market opportunities from trade agreements with countries like China, Japan, Korea, can do so with the EU in the future.
Reporter: And Simon, there is some concerns about geographical indicators in relation to parmesan in Europe and our local cheese. How will that be dealt with?
Simon Birmingham: So we recently published a list of the EU’s requests for these geographically indicators. They are terms that the EU seek to have protected as part of free trade agreements. Now, we’re not agreeing to any of them at present. We simply published them to get Australian industry, Australian farm feedback, in relation to them. But we’ll be taking then a careful look at how we handle them in negotiations. What we see is the vast majority of the terms are probably a little to no consequence to Australia. We may well be able to agree to protect them. Some, such as parmesan and feta, are more sensitive and that’s where we’ll have to think about whether we agree to any compromised position, or whether in fact we simply say that it’s unacceptable to go down that path.
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Libby Price: Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham speaking with Lois Chislett.