'Morrison: Australia-Britain free trade deal could be done in a year' Hans van Leeuwen, The AFR
Biarritz, France | A free trade deal between Australia and Britain could be nailed down in as little as a year, a confident Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared after meeting his British counterpart Boris Johnson at the G7 summit.
But he warned that the separate free trade agreement (FTA) Australia is already hammering out with the European Union was a more complex and incremental process - tempering expectations that that deal, too, could be wrapped up in the next 12 months.
Officials from Britain and Australia have been scoping out an FTA for well over a year, but talks can't formally begin until Brexit takes place on October 31.
Mr Johnson had said a separate British FTA with the US would take more than a year; but Mr Morrison told reporters the Australia-Britain talks would move at pace.
"I'd like to think we could move quicker than that," he told reporters late on Monday (AEST). "Australia, I think you'll find, will be pretty fleet-footed."
He said he didn't want to "create any arbitrary deadlines", but asked directly if it would take less than a year, he said: "I would hope so."
"What PM Johnson and I discussed today, the 80-20 rule pretty much applies to this. The first 80 per cent of what we’d seek to do is pretty straightforward and I think we can move forward rapidly," he said. "You’ve just got to get around the table and work it through."
He said Australia had already shown it could negotiate deals speedily, "so we’re pretty match fit when it comes to these issues". Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has gone even further, saying in July that a deal could be done in "months, maybe even weeks".
Mr Johnson issued a statement after his meeting with the Australian prime minister describing their mutual "enthusiasm" for a deeper trade relationship. Mr Morrison added the usual caveat that the deal had to be a good one for Australia.
"At the end of the day it’s got to be in our interests. We’re not going to sign up to something that we don’t think helps us and neither will they," he said.
Mr Morrison was less bullish about the prospects for the FTA with the EU, which has been under negotiation for about a year. Recently the two sides released a list of "geographical indicators" that the Europeans want to protect, which has raised concerns among big Australian dairy makerswhose brands include location-based names such as feta.
"There are some difficult issues there. The geographic indicators issue is a tough one," Mr Morrison said.
"But we’ll work through that patiently. The process has started. This is how you get these things done. It’s just step by step by step by step."
PM Morrison meets Italy's outgoing Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte at the G7 summit. AAP
He said his meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and outgoing Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte had confirmed that "there is a real keenness to engage with Australia".
Mr Morrison also welcomed the announcement at the G7 that US President Donald Trump had struck an in-principle agreement with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on a limited trade pact.
The deal would reduce agricultural tariffs for US exports to Japan and mandate bulk purchases of American wheat and corn. In return, Japan has a guarantee that tariffs won't increase on its car exports across the Pacific.
Mr Morrison said Mr Abe had talked to him after the announcement to reassure him that the US-Japan deal would “protect Australia’s interests”, which he said underscored the healthy state of the Australia-Japan relationship.
“As a result of that relationship they’ve ensured that both of their undertakings to Australia have been met at the same time they’ve been able to make the undertakings to the United States,” he said.
Hans van Leeuwen, the Australian Financial Reveiw.
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