The Council of the European Union has agreed to fast-track negotiations for an Australia-EU free trade agreement.
The EU’s Chief Trade Commissioner will visit Canberra next month to formally kick off the talks.
The Federal Government believes the agreement has the potential to be the largest free trade deal yet.
It will open the door wider to a broad range of agricultural exports including beef, sheepmeat, sugar, dairy, horticulture and wine.
“It’s a great opportunity for Australia,” said Trade Minister Steven Ciobo. “We want to conclude a deal as soon as we practicably can.
“This is about making sure that Australia has the best opportunity now to reset our relationship with the European Union. For a long time, we’ve laboured under market access conditions that haven’t been ideal, and so this will be a chance to reset that.”
Opening new markets
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said a free trade agreement with the EU has big potential for Australian farmers and will open up lucrative new premium markets.
“So much of the food our famers produce goes to export and the government will be working hard to make sure our farmers get real benefits from this,” said Mr Littleproud.
“A high-quality trade deal with the EU could eliminate many tariffs and create new and better export opportunities across some of our biggest sectors including beef and sheepmeat, sugar, dairy, cotton, wool, rice, grains, horticulture and wine.”
In 2016-17 Australia’s wine exports to the EU were worth $566 million, wool was worth $333 million, beef and veal were at $229 million and nuts exports raked in $226 million.
“All are subject to various quotas and tariffs which means there is huge potential for growth as part of the future FTA.”
Improved market access
Mr Littleproud said the appointment of a new agricultural counsellor in the EU as announced in this year’s Budget will be vital to securing improved market access for farmers.
“The EU is our fourth largest export destination for agriculture, fisheries and forestry worth $3.8 billion in 2016-17. It is also our largest source of agriculture, fisheries and forestry imports, valued at $5.6 billion,” he said.
“FTAs give Australian exporters an important advantage over international competitors who do not have agreements in place, and level the playing field with those who do.”
Win for all Australians
Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott said the announcement to open free trade negotiations can be a win for all Australians.
“Free trade agreements already cover most of Australia’s major trading partners, providing important access to Australian investors and exporters of goods and services,” Ms Westacott said.
“An FTA with the European Union would further enhance Australia’s vital trade and investment interests.
“At a time when some voices, internationally and in Australia, are questioning the benefits of open trade it is heartening that both the government and the opposition are determined to continue working with progressive nations to underscore our national commitment to trade liberalisation.
“Trade is Australia’s life blood – more liberal trade globally has helped lift millions out of poverty, it helps sustain 1 in 5 Australian jobs and, gives consumers the greater choices and freedom they expect.”
Ms Westacott said the Business Council is seeking the views of its member companies and looks forward to contributing to the negotiations.