ABC | 24 April 2021
Trade minister Dan Tehan says free trade deal with UK ready by June
By Linton Besser
Trade minister Dan Tehan has departed Britain promising an in-principle trade deal with the United Kingdom by June.
If the negotiations are conducted at such a pace, an Australia-UK free trade deal will likely be the first major agreement struck by Britain since it cleaved from the European Union, offering Boris Johnson a political, if not economic windfall.
Mr Tehan declined to nominate the deal’s potential financial value, but the British government’s own analysis has forecast it may result in an increase in GDP for the UK of as little as 0.02 per cent.
It’s expected the upside for Australia would be considerably greater, with Australian beef and lamb producers hoping for significantly increased access to the UK market.
But British farmers have been lobbying Westminster to demand all Australian meat imports meet the high environmental and animal welfare standards imposed on local products.
The National Farmers Union has told the UK government that Australian farmers can take advantage of hormones and veterinary medicines that are banned in Britain.
Similar concerns have also been raised by the National Sheep Association.
While Meat and Livestock Australia and Sheep Producers Australia have denied these claims, the lobbying has resulted in the establishment of a UK special trade commission to ensure British standards are not undermined.
Last January, the then UK environment secretary, Theresa Villiers, said Britain would maintain its current ban on meat from cattle treated with growth hormones.
Mr Tehan told the Financial Times this week: "What we want to make sure is the free trade agreement is about actually liberalising market access for agriculture, rather than being a debate on who’s got the best standards."
On Friday, both he and Liz Truss, the British trade secretary, declined to nominate which elements of the deal had been agreed, and which were yet to be resolved.
Ms Truss’s statement claimed "major breakthroughs" were achieved during Mr Tehan’s visit, and both politicians used the phrase "win-win" to describe the negotiations.
"I’m not going to go into details around the outstanding issues," Mr Tehan said, adding that confidentiality was expected of both sides.
"Needless to say, we’re very confident that we can resolve those over the next four to five weeks and have agreement in principle for a free trade agreement by early June."
Local press has reported that British negotiators expect to be able to open up the Australian telecommunications sector to greater competition from UK firms.
A free trade covenant with Australia, while paltry compared with the frictionless trade previously available to Britain through its membership of the EU, may offer wider benefits.
Agreeing a deal with Australia may also be seen as a path to the UK joining the wider Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership – an FTA of 11 countries around the Pacific Rim.
The CPTPP is estimated to account for 13 per cent of global GDP.
Mr Tehan told reporters he would be undergoing quarantine on his return to Australia in Canberra, but declined to say whether it would be in a hotel.
He said he would hold virtual meetings with Ms Truss every Friday for the next five weeks.