In recent weeks, Australia and the UK have arrived at a historic moment in our 250-year relationship. We set the framework for what will be Australia’s most ambitious free trade agreement (FTA) with any country, other than the FTA we have with our closest neighbour, New Zealand.
As always, there will be ongoing negotiations over the coming months to finalise the legal text of the FTA, but it will be a modern agreement, with both sides committing to maximise opportunities for physical and digital trade across all sectors of the economy. This, we hope, can act as a blueprint for ongoing free trade negotiations between Australia and the EU.
Australian tariff removal will result in significant gains for UK exporters in the Australian market and Australian consumers will benefit from the elimination of tariffs on cars, whiskey and all other UK exports.
There is even more to this agreement in areas as diverse as the financial and digital economy, the protection of intellectual property, cyber security, people movements and artificial intelligence, including strong rules on data flows and localisation to create a more certain and secure online environment.
Both Australia and the UK have made commercially significant commitments that will strengthen personal consumer choice, economic diversification, environmental sustainability, worker protections and export-led recovery from the global COVID-19 recession. It’s a great achievement.
Australia and the UK are trading nations that believe in open markets, high standards and the rules-based global trading system.
That is what has made our agreement so important. And much like the proposed Australia-EU FTA currently under negotiation, it is about creating new opportunities and jobs for families, communities and businesses.
Agriculture is, of course, part of this and it should be clear that Australia’s agricultural exports do not pose a threat to the significant and valuable UK-Ireland agricultural trade.
Australia has established major markets in our own Asia-Pacific region. Australia’s exports to the UK and EU are driven by niche customer import requirements, accounting for less than 1% of the UK’s total imports of agricultural goods in 2019, and less than 1% of the UK’s total beef imports.
Additionally, concerns about Australian food production standards and what this might mean for animal welfare and price points are simply unfounded.
Australia’s biosecurity and welfare standards have been awarded the highest competency (level five) by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
Indeed, the Australian standard for the hygienic production and transportation of meat products specifies supply chain security and traceability, explicitly, how animals in the supply chain must be cared for and managed.
Supply chain integrity requirements are mandatory under Australian law. Veterinarians employed by the Australian Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment closely oversee practices in dedicated exporting abattoirs licensed under the Export Control Act 1982 to ensure that animal welfare is reliably achieved.
The Australian government does not tolerate cruelty towards animals and will not compromise on animal welfare standards. Farmers, whether Australian, European, British or Irish, care for their herds and flocks; that is a universal bond and responsibility that farmers share.
At home, Australian farmers are known for their high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.
My family operates a wheat and sheep farm in Western Australia and we have lived this reality.
The farm was opened by Irish settlers originally from Clonmel, Co Tipperary. Their Irish roots, Irish perspective and Irish ingenuity allowed them to see opportunity in broad acre cropping, even as the Great Depression of the 1930s bit deep into the Australian economy. Today, the family still farms that land.
Australian exporters are accustomed to meeting the requirements of a range of different global customers, with our robust export controls providing the flexibility and assurance to meet importing country requirements. Australia is a reliable exporter of high-quality hormonal growth promotant (HGP) free beef to the UK and EU.
While the ink dries on our UK agreement, our negotiations with the EU continue.
The truth is that Australia can’t conclude its future European FTA without new, commercially meaningful market access, but it is worth noting both that the balance of food and agricultural trade with Australia remains strongly in Ireland and the EU’s favour, and that the EU ensures that Irish agricultural sensitivities are recognised in the negotiations.
Australia is working with Ireland and the EU to provide opportunities for increased two-way investment and co-operation in the agri-food sector and all other sectors too.
The high degree of complementarity between our respective economies means both sides stand to benefit from significant new opportunities, contributing to our goal of long-term sustainable economic recovery and trade diversification.
Ireland will gain from further reduction to Australian industrial and agricultural tariffs, further access to our services, investment and procurement markets and promotion of higher standards. Australia’s market is five times bigger than that of Ireland.
Australia is attractive to Irish investors, especially in the agriculture sector and, with one of the largest diasporas living in Australia, Irish businesses who are looking to export into our country would find an already established and receptive market.
We have already seen the great Irish agribusiness Kerry Group expand its operations in Australia, with the intention of delivering quality product into the Australian market. This is to be welcomed as the ties between our nations continue to strengthen.
We look forward to concluding a comprehensive and ambitious free trade agreement with the EU as soon as both sides are ready, and in the meantime, the UK agreement stands as a great achievement.