28 Mar

'Steve Ciobo keen on starting talks with UK on free trade pact' Annabel Hepworth, the Australian

Australia’s trade minister Steve Ciobo has called on Cricket Australia to take “appropriate action’’ in dealing with the ball tampering crisis as the issue has created international ‘’reputational injury’’.

Mr Ciobo met his UK counterpart Liam Fox in Westminster this morning during which the cheating scandal which has embroiled the country, was the subject of a joke during the first moments of greeting.

Mr Ciobo announced after the meeting that Australia would ‘’aspire’’ to negotiate a free trade deal with the UK to be implemented on the first legally allowable date - January 1, 2021, and negotiated throughout the transition period of Brexit from March 30, next year.

“The aspiration of the deal between Australia and the UK, we will commence negotiations basically on day one of the interim period with the view to having a high quality, comprehensive free trade agreement ready to go essentially on the first January 2021,’’ he said.

“So that that way we have a seamless transition from the UK being part of the EU and then when the UK sits outside of the EU for us to have that relationship (with the UK).’’

Mr Ciobo is also waiting for the EU to begin further trade talks with Australia, which he expects to happen in the middle of the year.

Officials had made “good progress” and it was time for “strong support at the political level”.

Amid threats of a US-China trade war that has sparked warnings this week from Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce that a trade war could have a “dampening effect” on economic growth globally, Mr Ciobo again emphasised the importance of resisting protectionism.

He said he was “encouraged” by the UK government’s interest joining the landmark Pacific trade pact known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. While it had appeared that the US withdrawing from the pact had kiboshed the deal, 11 countries including Australia this month agreed to pursue a “TPP-11” by signing an amended agreement.

“An early and high-quality UK-Australia FTA would be an important signal to others of the UK’s capacity to join the wider regional grouping. But whether or not it joins the TPP, Australia looks forward to a Britain that lends its weight and powers of persuasion even more effectively to the cause of an open and integrated global trading system.”

However, the issue of the ball tampering has engulfed England, with claims that the Australians may have even adopted the scuffing of the ball during the recent Ashes series. The story has dominated the front pages of newspapers and talk back radio.

Mr Ciobo would not reveal Mr Fox’s opening joke, but noted: ‘’It does leave a stain on Australia’s reputation in regards to cricket and we need to be mindful of that, its important we see decisive action taken by (Cricket) Australia, and move quickly to improve our standing again because these types of character taints tend to stick around.

‘’We had a light hearted reference to it, both withstanding the seriousness of the allegations.’’

When Mr Ciobo was asked for tips in dealing with the jibes currently experienced by Australians in Britain, he said:’’not withstanding the butt of a number of jokes, this does go to reputational injury and we do need to take that seriously , in Australia, we do recognise that, and after due process they will take the appropriate action.’’

* Annabel Hepworth has travelled to London as guest of Qantas.

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