EU-Aust trade pact talks set for year-end

Talks are set to formally begin on an Australia-EU trade deal after the European Parliament agreed to an initial negotiation position.

EU flags wave outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels

Talks are set to formally begin on an Australian-EU trade deal. (AAP)

Talks for a trade deal between Australia and the European Union are set to start before the end of the year.

The European Parliament on Thursday agreed to a negotiating mandate for the deal, noting Australia is among its oldest and closest partners in the world.

Europe is Australia's third largest trading partner - with two-way trade worth more than $68 billion in 2015 - yet Australia is one of only six World Trade Organisation members that has no preferential access to the EU market.

The parliament says an ambitious agreement must address investment, trade in goods and services, digitalisation, research and support for innovation, sustainable development, energy, regulatory issues, the fight against tax avoidance, and robust commitments on labour and environmental standards.

In particular, the EU wants special attention paid to helping small and medium businesses gain market access, and for European businesses to be given new opportunities to win Australian government contracts.

It would like to see a "balanced and ambitious" outcome on agriculture, but notes that some sectors may need to be excluded from the deal or have special treatment.

Sectors Europe sees as especially sensitive are beef and sugar - both of which Australia is the world's third largest exporter - along with lamb, dairy products and cereals.

The mandate also says any deal must include measures to combat counterfeiting of genetically modified or licensed agricultural and food products, and strong protections for intellectual property rights including geographical indications for alcohol and foods - such as the limitation on the word "champagne".

The politician who guided the mandate through parliament, Daniel Caspary, sees its agreement as a good sign.

"While protectionism is on the rise in other parts of the world, the EU's trade agenda is on track," he said.

"The trade negotiations with Australia and New Zealand will bring us closer to each other and pave the way for new jobs and more growth."

The mandate now needs to be agreed by EU country leaders. This is expected to happen in November, meaning talks can start before the end of the year.

A group of European MPs will visit Australia next week to discuss some of the contentious issues that could affect the negotiations.

3 min read
Published 27 October 2017 at 9:52am
Source: AAP