'UK free trade talks to drag on past G7' by Andrew Tillett, AFR
The United Kingdom’s top diplomat in Australia remains confident an in-principle agreement on a free trade deal will be struck to coincide with Scott Morrison’s trip to Europe, but concedes further talks on sticking points will be required amid mounting opposition from British farmers.
UK High Commissioner Vicki Treadell also revealed British PM Boris Johnson is pressing Mr Morrison to outline interim climate change targets as part of a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050.
British High Commissioner to Australia Vicki Treadell says officials want an in-principle agreement on a free trade deal reached by the time Scott Morrison attends the G7 summit. Alex Ellinghausen
In a briefing with Australian media, Ms Treadell expressed support for Australia after China’s trade strikes against $20 billion of exports, saying the UK was clear-eyed about China and would call out human rights abuses or threats to the international rules-based order.
“We’ve been on the record with regard to the situation with Australia, how trade policy has been weaponised. It’s contrary to how countries should behave with each other,” she said.
Mr Morrison will head to Cornwall late next week as an invited guest for the Group of Seven leaders’ summit as well as a series of bilateral meetings.
While concerns over China will be a key topic of talks, Mr Morrison also hopes to salvage the UK FTA following opposition from British farmers.
Ms Treadell said negotiators were working hard to reach an in-principle agreement in time for the meeting between Mr Morrison and Mr Johnson on June 15, but more talks would follow ahead of parliamentary votes.
“We are doing this at record speed and let me be clear: an agreement in principle just sets out the framework of what we want to achieve,” she said.
“I want to manage expectations. We won’t be in an FTA situation, full green light go on the 16th of June, but we will have a very clear agreement in principle.
“And then the detailed work to pin down any outstanding text or issues will be secured in order to be able to put it through respective parliamentary processes before the end of the calendar year.”
Ms Treadell said both governments were clear they wanted an ambitious agreement but the Australian government’s opening gambit of zero tariffs on agriculture was “clearly an ongoing negotiation, how might we phase that in”.
She said British officials needed to sell to their farmers the opportunities of new markets from more open trade, while also pointing out to them that Australian farmers had much larger markets closer to home in Asia.
”Currently it is less than 1 per cent of Australian meat ends up in the UK market, so if you’ve got a tenfold increase, you have to put that in context,” she said.
“And what will Australian meat compete against? It will be the European imports that we continue to enjoy tariff-free under the new arrangements with the EU.”
With the UK also hosting the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow at the end of the year, Ms Treadell said action on climate change was its number-one foreign policy objective.
Though Mr Morrison is inching towards committing Australia to achieving net zero emissions by 2050, Ms Treadell said the debate had moved past that.
“The real solution is for all nations to have a high level of ambition,” she said. “Not just for net zero by 2050. The assurance that we will get to net zero by 2050 is what people are doing on interim targets.
“Our focus now is the interim targets in order to hit net zero by 2050. Prime Minister Johnson at his last conversation with Prime Minister Morrison made this point.”
Ms Treadell said carbon border taxes were a tool for reducing emissions but needed to be imposed at the international level.
“For all the hard work we do within our countries, what we don’t want to end up doing is importing carbon emissions through supply chains or what we buy in,” she said.
British officials also provided further details on the deployment of the Royal Navy’s flagship to the Indo-Pacific, the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier and its support strike group which also includes US jets and a frigate.
Though the aircraft carrier will not visit Australia, Australian warships and aircraft are expected to take part in exercises with the carrier strike group, which will also carry out a transit through the South China Sea in support of freedom of navigation.
“The approach will be confident but not confrontational,” the UK defence attache to Australia, Brigadier Marcus Simson, said.
“It’s not our intention to raise tensions in the region through our deployment. We are engaging China to explain our posture and our purpose.”
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