EU, Australia Begin Preparations to Launch Trade Talks

19 November 2015

The EU and Australia will begin work with a view to launching free trade talks in 2017, leaders from both sides confirmed on Sunday following a meeting in the Turkish city of Antalya on the sidelines of the G-20 leaders’ summit.

“We believe that a FTA will support sustainable growth and investment, open up new commercial opportunities, and promote innovation and employment in Australia and the EU,” said Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and European Council President Donald Tusk in a joint statement.

Meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 leaders’ summit in the Turkish city of Antalya, the three officials pledged to now begin taking steps “as soon as possible” to define what the scope of such negotiations should be, as well as how to approach them.

“We will aim to achieve a comprehensive and balanced outcome that liberalises trade, promotes productive investment flows, and enhances the regulatory environment for business,” they said.

The EU is Australia’s third largest trading partner, surpassed only by China and Japan, according to the European Commission. Australia, meanwhile, is the EU’s 21st largest trading partner in goods.

Bilateral goods trade in 2014 hit €38.8 billion, while services trade the year prior was at €27 billion. Australia primarily imports manufactured goods from the 28-nation bloc, while its top exports to the EU are fuels and mining products.

The possibility of bilateral trade talks between the two sides had been raised earlier this autumn, after the European Commission released its new “Trade for All” strategy in which it proposed a series of initiatives for deepening its existing trade relationships, including through new or updated agreements. (See Bridges Weekly, 15 October 2015)

Trade landscape

The news comes as both trading partners also work to clinch various new deals in other parts of the globe, along with implementing other pacts that have recently been negotiated.

“This is a significant step towards expanding our trade, investment, and economic links with the EU,” said Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb in a statement welcoming the negotiations with Brussels.

“Having concluded landmark trade deals with Korea, Japan, and China, along with negotiations for the 12-country Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), the EU is certainly the next frontier when it comes to future agreements,” he added. (For more on the TPP, see related story, this edition)

The Australian trade chief, in separate remarks this week, also said that he still has high hopes for his country to reach an agreement with India by the end of this year, while noting that there may be “issues” on New Delhi’s side that could interfere.

Meanwhile, the EU is also preparing to launch negotiations with New Zealand, upon the completion of similar scoping exercises and other related steps. (See Bridges Weekly, 5 November 2015)

As with its planned talks with Australia, the European Commission noted that it would be pursuing such negotiations while “taking into account EU agricultural sensitivities.”

Among various other trade initiatives, including the planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) under negotiation with the US and a separate trade deal with Japan, the European Commission is also slated to begin negotiations with the Philippines, one of the ten countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) having received the greenlight from the European Council this week.

“Approximately 90 percent of global economic growth in the next 10 to 15 years is expected to be generated outside Europe. Economic recovery will need to be consolidated through stronger links with the new centres of global growth,” the European Commission said last month, explaining its interest in deepening the trade ties of the 28-nation bloc. (See Bridges Weekly, 15 October 2015)

ICTSD reporting; “Australia to launch free trade talks with EU in 2017,” THE GUARDIAN, 15 November 2015; “European trade deal next on Malcolm Turnbull’s agenda,” THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD,” 15 November 2015; “India trade deal still on the cards: Robb,” AAP, 16 November 2015.

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