EU-Australia free trade deal collapses

Australia  David GrayReuters
OCT 30, 2023 LISTEN
© David Gray/Reuters

Australia walked away from the latest round of negotiations for a free trade deal with the European Union saying it was unable to secure enough for its farm exports. Ministers said it could take years for a deal to be reached.

After the latest negotiations on the sidelines of a Group of Seven trade ministers' meeting in the Japanese city of Osaka at the weekend, Australia rejected European Union proposals

"I came to Osaka with the intention to finalise a free trade agreement," Australian Trade Minister Don Farrell said in a statement. "Unfortunately we have not been able to make progress.”

Australia and the EU have been discussing a free trade deal since 2018, with Australia eager to remove EU tariffs on agricultural exports, and Europe interested in getting access to Australia's rich mineral deposits used in clean energy products, such as wind turbines and electric car batteries.

But the two sides have been unable to agree on how much to open the European market to Australia's sheep and beef meat as well as sugar exports, with European farmers are keen to protect their own interests.

Australian agriculture minister Murray Watt said EU negotiators had refused to make any concessions.

"Unfortunately we just didn't get the movement on the EU side that was required," he told national broadcaster ABC on Monday.

Australia's largest farm industry group thanked the government for refusing to "throw Aussie farmers under a bus just to get the deal done”, and said it looked forward to a future “deal with the EU that benefits both sides”.

Negotiations, which had been postponed in 2021 in the wake of Australia's decision to back out of a submarine military contract with France, will not likely restart soon.

Watt said they were unlikely to continue during "this current term of parliament". The next parliament will not be elected before the 2025 general election.

"I think it will be quite some time before any Australian government or any EU leadership is able to negotiate a deal. And that's a bit of a shame," Watt added.

A European Commission spokesperson told journalists that the Commission was ready to continue negotiations.

The EU signed a trade deal with New Zealand last year that allowed more New Zealand beef, lamb, butter and cheese into the EU and lowered tariffs for EU exports including clothing, chemicals and cars.

(with newswires)