Lisa Martin and Angus Livingston
(Australian Associated Press)
The Turnbull government is trumpeting an export bonanza for Aussie farmers from a potential free trade deal with the European Union.
But once negotiations kick off, agriculture tariffs are likely to be a major sticking point.
Malcolm Turnbull says an agreement with the soon-to-be 27-country European bloc will open up new markets for Australian exporters and push back against rising protectionism.
European countries have agreed to begin talks on what could be Australia’s biggest free-trade deal, against the backdrop of US President Donald Trump’s “America First” trade policy.
“(This is) a huge achievement, a multilateral agreement in these times where protectionism has some support in some parts of the world,” Mr Turnbull told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.
Mr Turnbull said it would potentially be Australia’s biggest free-trade deal once concluded.
But he warned there would be “twists and turns” and the negotiations would be laborious.
Agriculture tariffs and quotas, especially beef, lamb and dairy exports from Australia, are expected to be among the hot-button issues during trade talks.
EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom will travel to Australia in mid-June, ahead of technical officials beginning formal negotiations in Brussels this July.
“Starting these talks between like-minded partners sends a strong signal at a time where many are taking the easy road of protectionism,” Ms Malmstrom said.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has promised a high level of transparency as the deal is nutted out.
National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson says Australian farmers have been a net exporter everywhere except the EU.
In 2016-17, Australia exported about $3.8 billion worth of produce to the EU, while importing produce worth about $4.7 billion.
Trade Minister Steve Ciobo said the government had landed the Trans-Pacific Partnership, South Korean, Japanese and Chinese free trade deals and now had its eye on the EU prize.
“Since the coalition has put in place these powerhouse trade agreements, we have seen more than 200,000 Australians have got an opportunity to get a job,” Mr Ciobo told question time on Wednesday.
Labor’s trade spokesman Jason Clare welcomed negotiations but called on the government to make sure Australian jobs are protected.
“Before a company brings in an electrician or a carpenter or a mechanic from overseas they should first have to go through the basic task of seeing if there is an Australian who can do the job,” Mr Clare said.
The EU is Australia’s second-largest trading partner, third-largest export destination and second-largest services export market.
A free-trade deal with the EU will open up a market of half a billion people, in an economy worth $22.6 trillion.
The EU is also pursuing a separate free trade deal with New Zealand.