Australia

Australia’s free trade deal with the UK likely ready in principle by June

A free trade deal between Australia and the United Kingdom is likely to be agreed in principle by June, according to both countries.

Australia’s Trade Minister Dan Tehan, who had travelled to London for two days of discussions with his British counterpart Liz Truss, said the “vast majority of issues” have now been resolved.

“The UK and Australia have today reached consensus on the vast majority of elements of a comprehensive free trade agreement,” a joint statement said. 

However, a draft agreement could not be reached on the trip.

“There are some areas that we still have to reach final agreement on,” Mr Tehan told reporters.

“I’m not going to go into details around the outstanding issues, but needless to say we’re very confident we can resolve those over the next four to five weeks.”

SBS News understands protections for British farmers and increased mobility between nations for workers have been key points of disagreement throughout the talks.

Negotiating teams will now enter a “sprint” period to reach a final agreement, with the trade ministers to speak via video-link every Friday until a deal is done.

Should an agreement in principle be reached in the coming weeks, it’s expected Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will hold a signing ceremony on the sidelines of the G7 Summit, which is being held in England in June.

Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan.

AAP

Ms Truss, who is tasked with reaching new trade deals for post-Brexit Britain, said she’s confident the remaining issues are not insurmountable.

“We have made major breakthroughs over the past few days and an agreement is now in sight,” she said.

“I want to thank Dan (Tehan) personally for the contribution he has made and for his desire to get this deal done.”

Before this round of talks began, Ms Truss apologised to Mr Tehan, after an anonymous staffer from her department told the UK’s Telegraph newspaper he was “inexperienced” and would be forced to sit in an “uncomfortable chair”. 

While Australia is understood to have been dismayed by the comments, Mr Tehan laughed them off.

“Look, I had a very comfortable chair to sit in and me and Liz were very much focused on getting an outcome… we have made substantial progress over the last 48 hours,” he said. 

The trade minister will now return to Australia and will undergo two weeks quarantine in Canberra, but would not confirm if that will take place in a hotel or a private residence.

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