In the pursuit of a significant new trade deal with Europe, Australia has made it clear that there is one thing it won’t compromise on. Agriculture Minister Murray Watt emphasised that Australia will not sign a free trade agreement (FTA) with the European Union (EU) merely for the sake of it, and that any agreement must ensure favourable outcomes for Australian farmers.
Despite multiple rounds of negotiations, agriculture has become a contentious issue. Senator Watt reiterated that the government would not finalise the FTA unless it secured advantageous returns for Australian farmers. He highlighted the challenges posed by the EU’s heavily protected market and the subsidies provided to its farming industry, which create difficulties in aligning with Australia’s highly efficient, non-subsidised agricultural sector.
Senator Watt acknowledged that reaching an agreement with the EU was one of the most challenging tasks, as demonstrated by the previous government’s inability to finalize a deal. He emphasized that Australia was not interested in a deal for the sake of it, but rather sought improved market access for its producers, allowing for increased value, exports, and overall prosperity.
Furthermore, Senator Watt acknowledged that the ongoing conflict in Ukraine had resulted in depressed produce prices for some European countries, contributing to the EU’s reluctance to sign a deal with Australia. Nevertheless, he expressed optimism in finding a resolution to this issue.
The Albanese government has previously stated its willingness to walk away from the FTA if key disagreements, such as the one related to agriculture, cannot be resolved. Another contentious matter has been the EU’s insistence on implementing geographical indicators that would restrict Australian producers from using certain names, such as prosecco or feta, on their products.
Despite Trade Minister Don Farrell returning from Brussels empty-handed after the EU declined Australia’s request for improved market access for agricultural exports, both parties will resume negotiations to break the deadlock. Senator Farrell has secured another round of trade talks with European counterparts.
Unfortunately, these delays have all but dashed hopes of signing the agreement by July, despite reports of Australian and European officials having already agreed upon several chapters of the FTA earlier this year.