The Sydney Morning Herald | 30 June 2022
British MPs may delay Australia trade deal after minister’s no-show
By Latika Bourke
London: Australian meat producers and younger people wanting to holiday and work in the UK for longer could face delays in accessing the British market after a huge political row over the trade deal erupted in Westminster.
The furore came just hours after prime ministers Anthony Albanese and Boris Johnson met for the first time, on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Madrid, and said they hoped the deal would come into effect soon.
Albanese told Johnson that Labor supported the Australian-UK-US pact (AUKUS) and expressed “our hope that the free-trade agreement comes into force this year,” adding that it was “very important for both our countries”.
“We’re shoulder-to-shoulder,” Johnson agreed.
But that is now looking unlikely after the British parliament’s commons trade committee told MPs they should delay ratifying the agreement after a late-night snub by Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan.
Trevelyan, who took over the role from Foreign Secretary Liz Truss after the deal was brokered, told the oversight committee just after 10pm on Tuesday (Wednesday AEST) that she would no longer attend Wednesday’s long-scheduled meeting.
Trevelyan claimed an announcement on steel tariffs was the reason she could not give evidence to the group of cross party MPs.
Chair Angus MacNeil convened MPs to express their disgust at her absence.
“We feel that this is a disrespect ... we think this sets a very worrying precedent, unanimously with the way the government is dealing with the free trade agreements,” he said.
Hours later, the committee issued a rare and stern statement, warning they would advise MPs to delay ratifying the agreement.
“The UK’s trade agreement with Australia is of great importance,” the committee said.
“This morning’s cancellation and the Secretary of State’s offer of a meeting next week means we cannot take into account her evidence and still publish our report before the last days of the 21-day Parliamentary scrutiny period,” they wrote referring to Trevelyan.
“It is vital that the Government reconsiders and reverses its rejection of our call to extend the scrutiny period.
“If it does not do so, we will be calling on MPs to vote to delay ratification, so the House can take back control of the time it has to scrutinise this important deal, and set a new precedent for future ones,” the committee said.
The trade agreement was the first Britain negotiated from scratch following its departure from the European Union.
It offers younger Australians the chance to work and live in the UK for three years instead of two and carves out unprecedented levels of market access for Australian lamb and beef producers.
Britain’s Department for Trade was contacted for comment.