Australian officials are ready to begin work on a free-trade deal with Britain and have recently flown in to begin hammering out details of a landmark pact, the country’s top official in Britain has revealed.
A senior negotiator from Canberra has arrived in Britain, while top civil servants from Australia have briefed their counterparts in London on the ins and outs of trade deals, high commissioner Alexander Downer said.
Australia and Britain have agreed to kickstart trade talks imminently. Photo: Chris Ratcliffe
British Prime Minister Theresa May met Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull last month, when they agreed to kickstart trade talks imminently, while Australia’s Trade Minister Steven Ciobo also met his British counterpart Liam Fox.
A deal could make goods such as wine, beef and dairy cheaper as British shoppers would no longer have to pay the EU’s import taxes, while Australia is a big buyer of British cars such as Land Rovers and Bentleys. A deal would cover services such as finance.
Mr Downer said the two countries would soon start scouting out potential disputes and areas of agreement, insisting Australia wants few barriers: “Our starting point is always that free trade means free trade, to borrow a phrase.”
The two sides have agreed to form a working group, which is expected to prepare the way for formal negotiations. Australia also offered to help Britain by lending the UK some trade negotiators and experts, as Britain has not had an independent trade policy since joining the EU 43 years ago.
Now it has emerged that the two governments followed through on those offers almost instantly, with training from Australia’s experienced negotiators forming the first step. “Two people who were our ambassadors to the World Trade Organisation have been over here talking to British officials,” Mr Downer said. Officials have also arrived from Canberra to clear the way to full negotiations.
Mr Downer said Australia had already brought in a trade expert for talks, adding: “We will reinforce that team with more trade experts should we get into a free trade negotiation.”
In terms of goods alone, Britain’s exports to Australia amounted to £4 billion last year, while imports from Down Under were worth almost £2 billion.
Until Brexit takes place the UK cannot sign its own trade deals, but ministers still hope to prepare the ground.