UK ministers stuck in talks over Australia trade deal

The CMA CGM Musset container ship, operated by Danaos Shipping Co Ltd, left, on the dockside at the Port of Felixstowe Ltd, a subsidiary of CK Hutchison Holdings Ltd, in Felixstowe, UK, on Jan 25, 2021. (CHRIS RATCLIFFE/BLOOMBERG)

The UK government is locked in an internal debate over a trade deal with Australia as it tries to balance a desire for greater access to new markets against potential ramifications for domestic business.

READ MORE: Australia says trade deal with UK in place by year-end

A deal between the UK and Australia is expected to boost Britain’s GDP by 0.02% over 15 years, according to a British government assessment

Britain and Australia agreed the bulk of a free-trade agreement in April and have signaled they want to conclude the pact by the G-7 summit in June. A contentious issue in the negotiations is the amount of access given to Australian farmers, with Britain’s National Farmers Union warning many farms would face ruin if exposed to cheaper imports from overseas.

“There’s a balance to be struck between your commercial interests and your desire to open up new markets,” George Eustice said on Sky News on Tuesday after the Financial Times reported that the government is divided over whether to do the deal. “In any discussion on any part of government policy there will be issues where different government departments have a shared interest and we have a discussion to establish a consensus.”

ALSO READ: UK, Australia seal most of trade deal in boost for Johnson

A trade deal with Australia is one of the government’s key post-Brexit targets, alongside ongoing negotiations with the United States and New Zealand. A deal between the UK and Australia is expected to boost Britain’s GDP by 0.02% over 15 years, according to a British government assessment.

Eustice said his department is considering ways to protect sensitive sectors during the negotiations, such as having tariff-rate quotas on certain goods. International Trade Secretary Liz Truss is said to favour a zero-tariff, zero-quota deal similar to Britain’s accord with the EU, according to the FT report.

“Any deal we sign with Australia will include protections for the agriculture industry and will not undercut UK farmers or compromise our high standards,” the Department for International Trade said in a statement. It also said a deal would be a step toward joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), an 11-country pact including Singapore, Malaysia and Japan, which would “allow UK farmers even greater access to growing consumer markets in Asia”.

Separately, the UK government said it will soon start talks to improve upon the roll-over post-Brexit trade deals it signed with Canada and Mexico.