Britain and Australia announced the broad outlines of a free trade deal on June 15, eliminating tariffs on a wide range of goods as the U.K. seeks to expand links around the world following its exit from the European Union.
The pact is expected to boost exports of traditional British products such as Scotch whisky, while boosting imports of lamb and wine from Australia. The U.K. also hopes the deal will help it join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which would open the door to increased trade throughout the Asia-Pacific region. The U.K. now has free trade deals in various stages of ratification with seven of the 11 CPTPP members: Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, and Vietnam.
The agreement with Australia is the first trade deal Britain has negotiated from scratch since it left the EU. Earlier deals with countries including Japan and Canada were built on existing agreements struck by the EU.
Johnson and his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, appeared outside Downing Street on Tuesday in a jovial mood, underlining the benefits each county would receive in the deal and stressing the long ties between the two nations.
“This is an ambitious free trade agreement,’’ Morrison told reporters. “This is not a standard cookie cutter agreement. This is an agreement with great ambition for both countries.’’
Britain is Australia’s fifth largest trading partner with two-way goods and services valued at 36.6 billion Australian dollars (US$28.2 billion) a year.
U.K. farm groups reacted with caution, saying they were waiting to see the details of the agreement. British meat producers have expressed concerns that they wouldn’t be able to compete with cheap imports from Australia.
Johnson’s office defended the deal, saying U.K. farmers would be protected by a cap on tariff-free imports for 15 years. The government also said it would seek to increase agricultural exports to Asia and the Pacific.
“We had to negotiate very hard and I want everybody to understand that this is a sensitive sector for both sides and we’ve got a deal that runs over 15 years and contains the strongest possible provisions for animal welfare,’’ Johnson said. “But I think it is a good deal and I think it’s one that will benefit British farmers and British consumers as well.’’
U.K. Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said Australian beef imports would be a “pretty small” portion of U.K. consumption.
“It’s important that we maintain protections and support for farmers, but it’s also the case that opening up trade barriers, bringing them down and opening up the opportunities, provides our farmers with the chance to show on the world stage the amazing quality of U.K. produce,” Gove told Sky News.