Prime Minister Scott Morrison has urged Britain to seize an opportunity to strike a trade deal with Australia as he holds talks with his counterpart Boris Johnson.
The pair met at 10 Downing Street on Tuesday morning (Australian time) after Mr Morrison earlier told an Australia-UK Chamber of Commerce audience that the process of Britain leaving the European Union could bring benefits.
“As the United Kingdom moves into a completely new generation of their trading relationships with the world, who better to start that journey with than Australia?” Mr Morrison said.
The Australian Financial Review reported that the two would meet again on Tuesday morning (Tuesday night AEST) and are expected to sign an in-principle agreement towards a free trade deal.
Key sticking points must be overcome before a deal can be reached.
Agriculture has firmed as the major obstacle, with consensus on Australian beef and lamb exports proving to be particularly elusive.
British dairy farmers are also sceptical about the trade deal.
Australian officials have described negotiations as tough and the two trade ministers have been in daily contact.
“At the end of the day there will always be hesitancy … when any country enters into a trade arrangement with any other country – that is quite normal,” Mr Morrison said.
“We have quite a lot of experience in that, we’ve been able to secure many of these arrangements, and of course you need to explain them to your populations but the ultimate explanation is jobs.
“We either are passionate about growing the markets in which we can operate – providing opportunities for our own producers and suppliers and services – or we will stay in a situation of being unable to take up those opportunities.”
Trade Minister Dan Tehan said enormous progress had been made on the agreement in the past six weeks but it was unclear whether a deal could be reached this week.
Mr Morrison described the effect of Britain joining the European common market – a forerunner to the EU – in the 1970s as “a devastating blow on Australian producers”.
“The Brexit that has occurred is an opportunity for us to pick up where we left off all those many years ago and to once again realise the scale of the trading relationship that we once had,” Mr Morrison said.
“Who better to do it than with Australia at this time?”
Mr Morrison has indicated he does not want to sign an agreement just for the sake of it, only to have trade arguments down the track.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab met Mr Morrison on Monday and said the two governments would “work together to promote open societies and economies, protect our values and confront coercion”.
What will we get from the FTA?
Australia’s main exports to Britain are gold, alcohol, lead, personal travel and professional services. Our main imports from Britain are cars, medicines, personal travel and professional services.
Here’s what the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says Australia wants from a free trade agreement with Britain:
- Improve market access for Australian agricultural and industrial products;
- Reduce barriers to trade and costs through modern customs, rules of origin and trade facilitation procedures;
- Address “non-tariff” barriers such as unclear animal and plant health requirements, inconsistently applied product standards and government procurement policies;
- Better access for Australian financial and professional services;
- Establish best practice digital trade commitments;
- Greater certainty for investors through clear rules and regulations;
- Identify opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses;
- Support innovation and creativity through trade and investment in intellectual property;
- Promote compliance with internationally recognised labour standards;
- Ensure high levels of environmental protection;
- Establish a country-to-country dispute settlement process.