Australia and EU remain deadlocked on free trade agreement

Australia and the European Union have failed to strike a deal on a planned free-trade agreement as better market access for farmers remains a major sticking point.

Jul 12, 2023, updated Jul 12, 2023
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the NATO ​summit in Vilnius. Photo: EPA/Toms Kalnins

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the NATO ​summit in Vilnius. Photo: EPA/Toms Kalnins

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Tuesday met with French President Emmanuel Macron as he pushed for an improved deal for sheep and beef producers as part of the proposed agreement.

‘We won’t just sign up to a deal for the sake of it, what we want is a good deal for Australia,” he said.

A European Commission representative said in a statement that progress had been made on a free-trade agreement but “more work is required to address key outstanding issues”.

“We regret it was not possible to conclude our talks with Australia this week,” the statement read.

Trade Minister Don Farrell said officials on both sides would continue negotiations and try to meet again next month.

“As we’ve said all along, Australia needs meaningful agricultural access to European markets,” he told reporters in Brussels.

“I’m optimistic that with some goodwill, some hard work, some perseverance, we’re going to get there.”

Albanese’s meeting with Macron took place on the sidelines of the NATO summit in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius.

He also discussed the trade deal with Portuguese leader Antonio Costa, who the prime minister said had been a strong supporter of the agreement.

On Wednesday Albanese is due to hold talks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

National Farmers’ Federation chief executive Tony Mahar, who is in Brussels, backed the government’s strong line on negotiations while remaining optimistic that an agreement could be struck.

“We applaud minister Farrell and the negotiating team for rejecting a sub-standard deal,” he said.

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“A lesser minister might have folded in what continues to be a tough negotiation.

“We’re hopeful that with some grit and goodwill from both sides we can get this thing done in a way that benefits everyone, including Aussie farmers.”

One sticking point in the trade talks is the EU’s objection to Australian food producers using terms such as feta and prosecco.

Australian negotiators argue it is reasonable for farmers to use the terms to represent varieties rather than European regions.

Opposition trade spokesman Kevin Hogan said he agreed with the idea of walking away if farmers were not offered adequate access to the EU market.

“We shouldn’t rush this deal if it’s a bad deal for Australia,” he told AAP.

Hogan doesn’t want to see “‘grandfathering” of geographical indicators where only existing producers could use names like feta and prosecco.

“The European Union is a big economy. There’s a lot of customers there for us, but we certainly don’t want to do that at any cost,” he said.

“A deal can be done but we shouldn’t blink before the Europeans do.”

– AAP with Reuters

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