Australia and the European Union (EU) opened talks on a free trade deal on Monday which has the potential to unlock a market of half a billion consumers for Australian products.
EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom was in Canberra on Monday for meetings with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and other senior members of the government, and high on their agenda was rising protectionism in some parts of the world.
“In these times we really need to send positive signals that we believe in mutually beneficial trade,” Malmstrom said in her meeting with Bishop, according to local media reports.
“I think we know where we are, we know the difficulties, we know the challenges, but also we know that in many areas it will be quite straightforward.”
Bishop said the free trade talks were a chance to set a “gold standard” for trade agreements.
“It’s also an opportunity for us to send a very powerful signal to the world that Australia and the EU are committed to open trade and free markets and transparent rules,” Bishop said on Monday.
Meanwhile, Australian Trade Minister Steve Ciobo pointed to the potential for Australia’s job market. “The more Australian produce, products and services sold to the world, the more Australian jobs created.”
“I want to see more Australian premium produce on plates from Prague to Paris,” the trade minister said.
Australia believes an agreement with the European bloc will help push back against rising protectionism.
Agriculture tariffs are likely to be a major sticking point, especially beef, lamb and dairy exports from Australia.
The first round of negotiations will be held in Brussels in early July and an agreement with the European bloc would make a statement against the shielding of domestic industries and the escalation of trade taxes.
Malmstrom will deliver the Schuman Lecture at the Australian National University on Monday about the opportunities, benefits and challenges stemming from a EU-Australia Free Trade Agreement, and how this relationship will help strengthen the global trading system.