Australia and the European Union plan to hold critical talks for a free-trade accord on the sidelines of a Group of Seven meeting in Osaka later this month, with both sides indicating this might be the last chance for some time to strike a deal.
(Bloomberg) — Australia and the European Union plan to hold critical talks for a free-trade accord on the sidelines of a Group of Seven meeting in Osaka later this month, with both sides indicating this might be the last chance for some time to strike a deal.
Australian Trade Minister Don Farrell and EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis intend to hold face-to-face negotiations in Japan in an attempt to break a July deadlock, European Commission spokesman Olof Gill said. The G-7 trade ministers meeting in Osaka runs Oct. 28-29.
The proposal is part of EU’s efforts to secure deals with likeminded partners to diversify its access to critical materials. It also aims to cement alliances in the face of global challenges, including climate change and China’s assertive rise.
Farrell walked away from negotiations on free-trade accord in Brussels in July, surprising his European hosts. The Australian minister said at the time the EU wasn’t offering enough concessions on export quotas for Australian agricultural products, including beef, mutton and sugar.
Talks between Australia and the EU on a deal have been taking place for more than five years. The EU is Australia’s third-largest trading partner, as a bloc, and its second-largest source of foreign investment.
Osaka could be the last chance for a breakthrough between Australian and the EU, at least until late next year, due to election cycles in Europe, people familiar with the matter said.
“Concluding this FTA will open up trade opportunities with an important partner, thereby strengthening EU supply chains,” Gill said.
Both Australia and the EU have struck broad agreement across a range of elements on the FTA, but the final negotiations have proved difficult. Australia wants greater quotas for its agricultural exports to the EU, while Europe is pressing hard for the removal of geographical indicators on products such as brie and prosecco.
Both sides were cautious on the likelihood of striking a deal, with Farrell telling Bloomberg he would need to see a new offer from his European counterparts.
“Our position hasn’t changed,” Farrell said in a statement. “To conclude a deal, Australia needs new commercially meaningful agricultural access for a range of products into European markets.”
Some business groups are keen for a deal to be struck, with BusinessEurope and the European Australian Business Council issuing a joint letter on Oct. 9 calling for agreement.
“The window of opportunity under the current mandate of the von der Leyen Commission is rapidly closing,” the letter said, referring to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
–With assistance from Alberto Nardelli and Garfield Reynolds.
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