EU trade commissioner in Australia to launch talks


SBS News has talked with EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom as negotiations for a free trade deal begin.

Negotiations have officially been launched between Australia and the European Union trade commissioner on a free trade deal.

Australia has wanted better access to the EU markets for decades, and Brexit and the United States' new protectionism have accelerated negotiations.

Steve Ciobo, Malcolm Turnbull and Cecilia Malmstrom in Canberra.
Steve Ciobo, Malcolm Turnbull and Cecilia Malmstrom in Canberra.

EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom has told SBS News any difficulties can be resolved.

"We've been discussing this for quite some time. I think we are well-prepared. And it would be important economically, opening up new possibilities for our small and medium-size companies to respective markets, facilitating trade," Ms Malmstrom said.

"But it's also a political, strategic agreement as well, because, both Australia and the European Union, we stand up for global, rule-based trade, for multilateralism, for fair, transparent rules."

At $165 billion a year, the European Union is Australia's second-biggest direct investor.

It is also Australia's second-biggest destination for foreign direct investment, worth $105 billion a year.

The nation's top agricultural exports to the European Union include canola, wine, greasy wool, beef and veal and almonds, but that could expand once a deal is signed.

EU imports to Australia are dominated by motor vehicles, pharmaceuticals, aircraft parts and mechanical equipment.

A free trade agreement with a market comprising half a billion consumers and a $23 trillion Gross Domestic Product could be the biggest trade deal in Australia's history.

Cecilia Malmstrom talks with Julie Bishop.
Cecilia Malmstrom talks with Julie Bishop.

Trade Minister Steve Ciobo said both Australia and the European Union are excited about concluding a quality, comprehensive trade agreement.

"Any trade negotiation has areas that are more straightforward and areas that are more complex. There are some areas where Australia has offensive interests, and that includes better market access for agricultural products. Likewise, there are areas where the Europeans have offensive interests, and that will be in relation to geographic indicators," he said.

"So we've just got to get into this negotiation in good faith, keep our eye on the horizon - and the horizon, in this case, is a high-quality, comprehensive deal - and we'll be able to negotiate our way through to conclude a good, quality, win-win deal that's good for economic growth and good for jobs."

Mr Ciobo has hinted high-quality agricultural products could be a big winner.

"Frankly, we have trouble meeting the demand from Asia, from our immediate neighbourhood, for the clean and green, quality produce that we produce. Of course, there's interest in Europe."

"Ultimately, there will need to be a good, quality deal at the core of this in order for us to reach an agreement. If there's not, if we don't secure access, an improved access, to the marketplace, then that's obviously not going to be a good deal, so I wouldn't conclude a deal like that."

The Australian government believes an agreement with the soon-to-be 27-country European bloc would help push back against the protectionism coming from the United States and others.

Cecilia Malmstrom goes looking for kangaroos in Canberra.
Cecilia Malmstrom goes looking for kangaroos in Canberra.
SBS News

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has pointed to the potential deal as the latest in a line of trade deals, including pacts with China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Peru and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

"What you need to have is persistence, and you need to be committed to Australian jobs. And I will never give up on Australian jobs. And that's why we will do everything we can to open every door that we can to Australian exporters, whether it is in goods or services." 

The Europeans are concerned about geographic indicators of Australian products such as parmesan or Prosecco wine.

There are also concerns about Australian farmers flooding the beef and lamb markets.

The first round of negotiations will be held in Brussels in early July.

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