Australian farmers key to EU trade deal

Shane WrightThe West Australian
Australian Malcolm Turnbull with UK Prime Minister Theresa May at her country residence, Chequers.
Camera IconAustralian Malcolm Turnbull with UK Prime Minister Theresa May at her country residence, Chequers. Credit: Getty Images

Australia will put the nation’s farmers at the centre of a possible free trade deal with Europe, with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull set to make clear that open access to European Union agricultural markets is vital.

In an address that will link a free trade deal to the possibility of holding back political populism across the globe, Mr Turnbull will tell a German political foundation of the wider importance of an Australia-EU agreement.

Australia is waiting on the EU to formally approve negotiating a free trade deal that would be among the biggest struck by Australia.

The EU is, as a bloc, Australia’s second-biggest trading partner and third-largest export market. Last financial year Australia exported $19 billion worth of goods and almost $12 billion worth of services to the eurozone.

And Australia imported $49 billion of European goods and another $20 billion in services.

Past efforts to strike trade agreements have been stymied by the EU’s generous protections for its farmers.

But Mr Turnbull said any FTA between Australia and Europe would have to open the EU’s lucrative agricultural sector in a development that could be a major financial windfall to WA’s efficient primary producers.

“The FTA we are seeking will deliver for Australian producers and farmers as well as their European consumers,” he will argue.

”And it must also signal to the EU’s agri-food sector the huge opportunities for expanded EU trade with and investment in Australia.

”The agreement must address the very restrictive farm tariffs and quotas that our farmers currently face.”

Outside agriculture, Mr Turnbull will argue any trade deal must deal with so-called “behind the border” barriers that may discriminate against trade and investment in services.

He believes European firms could use Australia as a base from which to launch efforts into the broader Asian market.

Mr Turnbull, who spent time with British Prime Minister Theresa May at the weekend focusing on the threats posed by cyber attacks, will claim a free trade deal between Australia and the EU will play its part in holding back dark political forces.

He will also express concern that laws governing free and open trade could be undone by some of the forces now at play.

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