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UK opens formal trade talks with Australia, New Zealand

Filed on June 17, 2020
Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham. - Reuters

Australia will be looking to secure better market access for goods exports, especially in agriculture, and high-standard rules on digital trade and investment.

Britain formally launched talks with Australia and New Zealand on post-Brexit free-trade agreements Wednesday, with Canberra's top trade official voicing hopes a deal could be reached this year.

"Later today, Australia and the United Kingdom will formally commence free-trade negotiations," Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said, in a speech highlighting Australia's drive to diversify trade as it is locked in disputes with China.

Britain's conservative government has heralded its departure from the European Union as an opportunity to deepen trade relations with global partners.

While talks have already taken place, formal negotiations had been delayed until Britain left the bloc in January.

Birmingham warned that even with an Australia-Britain deal, volumes were unlikely to return to those seen in the 1970s - before Britain joined the European Economic Community and when its trade was last focused on its former colonies.

"Australia will be looking to secure better market access for goods exports, especially in agriculture, and high-standard rules on digital trade and investment," he said.

Talks on an Australia-EU trade deal are already under way, and Birmingham said Canberra would also like to conclude them this year.

But he admitted that would be a tough task with negotiations on several trade agreements taking place simultaneously.

Separate negotiations commenced in Wellington, where British High Commissioner Laura Clarke said it made sense to deal with Australia and New Zealand at the same time, given their close economic ties.

While not mentioning China by name, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand was also aiming to broaden its range of trading partners.

"Our policy in the here and now is to strengthen New Zealand's economy and resilience through diversification," she said.

Birmingham refused to say whether Australia would prioritise a deal with the European Union or Britain.

"The EU is a much bigger market, and notwithstanding Brexit it remains a much bigger market. But that does not mean the UK is not a significant market," he said.

"I don't have favoured children in that regard, and I want to love them both equally." - AFP


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