Trade Minister Steve Ciobo says the European Union's internal processes have slowed completion of a scoping study for a proposed EU-Australia free trade deal.
The European Union's internal processes are proving challenging as Australia tries to complete a scoping study for a trade deal with the bloc, Trade Minister Steve Ciobo says.
The minister was asked on Thursday why the timetable for completion of the study was slipping when it had been expected to be wrapped up early this year.
Speaking to reporters in London, where he's attending an inaugural Commonwealth Meeting of Trade Ministers, Mr Ciobo said talks were ongoing to ensure the completed study was a good starting point for formal negotiations on a free trade agreement.
"Part of the challenge with the EU is that it is of course effectively a federation and so there are challenges in terms of some of the internal processes that the EU has," he said.
"If the Europeans say to me that they need a little bit more time I'm happy to give them more time in order to be able to achieve a good common, solid starting point to the negotiations."
Mr Ciobo said that when the scoping study was completed Australia would begin formal negotiations with the EU around the middle to the end of this year.
Earlier on Thursday he met UK Secretary of State for Trade, Liam Fox, for "constructive talks" on a free trade deal that Britain and Australia hope to enter into once the UK formally leaves the EU.
A joint working group is already at work on that proposed deal.
Mr Ciobo said the preliminary talks on a UK-Australia deal would "not at all" threaten the planned EU-Australia deal.
"We can walk and chew gum at the same time.
"It's not like it's one or the other, we can do both," he said.
The Commonwealth trade ministers' meeting in London has been labelled "Empire 2.0" by some critics but Mr Ciobo said it was nothing like that.
"This is about bringing countries together at various stages of development to talk about the importance of having a strong commitment to liberalising trade and investment because that drives growth, it drives employment in every single country."
Early next week Mr Ciobo heads to Chile for a summit to discuss the wash-up from US President Donald Trump's decision to abandon the 12-country Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.