Australia starts formal trade talk with UK

Australia has formally kicked off negotiations for a trade deal with the UK, four-and-a-half months after it left the European Union.

The two governments have been working on a possible trade deal since 2016 and have already struck some early agreements that will come into effect from 2021.

But negotiations on a comprehensive deal could not formally start until Brexit took place on January 31.

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham is hopeful of a speedy resolution.

“We have thrown the kitchen sink at being in the best possible place to commence negotiations with the UK,” he told the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.

The government is hopeful of striking a deal by the end of the year, but Senator Birmingham cautioned that was a very short time frame.

Looking at the opportunities for Australian exporters, Senator Birmingham highlighted the case of winemakers.

Already, one in five bottles sold in the UK comes from Australia, despite there being a tariff on wine from down under.

“They don’t pay a tariff on French or Spanish or Italian wines. Just on Australian wines,” Senator Birmingham said.

“And so if we can achieve elimination of that tariff, that is going to either mean that our winemakers can … enjoy slightly greater profits, or that they can be even more competitive in that market.”

The UK is Australia’s seventh-largest trading partner.

There are already significant people-to-people links and $1.1 trillion invested between the countries.

The first round of talks between Australian and British negotiators will take place on June 29.

Australia had talked up the possibility of being first out of the gates on a post-Brexit trade deal, but the United States started its negotiations in early May.

Formal negotiations are also starting between the UK and New Zealand.

NZ prime minister Jacinda Ardern downplayed suggestions the trans-Tasman countries would work together as a bloc or attempt to undercut each other on key issues like agricultural access.

“It’s an acknowledgement of the eagerness of both countries to enter into negotiations,” she told reporters in Wellington.

UK International Trade Secretary Liz Truss said her country was seeking to strengthen ties around the world.

“Ambitious, wide-ranging free trade agreements with old friends like Australia and New Zealand are a powerful way for us to do that and make good on the promise of Brexit,” she said.

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