EU plans to trade ‘much’ more with Australia and New Zealand after Brexit

EU beats Britain to the punch on opening trade negotiations with Commonwealth countries

Jon Stone
Europe Correspondent
Tuesday 22 May 2018 11:57 BST
EU trade commissioner: EU plans to trade ‘much’ more with Australia and New Zealand after Brexit

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An upcoming trade deal between the European Union and Australia and New Zealand will help to dramatically increase trade between the blocs, the EU’s trade commission has said.

Despite high-profile Brexiteers hoping Britain would do more trade with Commonwealth countries after Britain leaves the bloc, the EU has pulled away with a head-start in negotiating its own agreement with the two former British colonies.

Cecilia Malmström told the European Parliament on Wednesday that her negotiating team was moving to the next phase of preparations for the trade deal.

She announced that the European Commission had sent information about the upcoming talks to member states’ national parliaments so they could begin scrutinising the process.

The Trade Commissioner also confirmed that the EU would be taking a fast-track approach to the talks by agreeing to conclude a deal which either of the two countries individually, even if the other was not ready.

“Our current exports to these countries are more than our exports to Canada, and it can be much bigger,” Ms Malmström, a Swedish liberal, said.

“We have done a very thorough preparatory work with both Australia and New Zealand.

“They are aware of the debate here in Europe, they are aware of our sensitivities, they are aware of the political discussion in some of the countries relating to trade.”

Cecilia Malmström, the EU's trade Commissioner
Cecilia Malmström, the EU's trade Commissioner (European Parliament)

MEPs are expected to give the go-ahead to starting talks in a vote later on Thursday.

Britain cannot open talks with either Australia or New Zealand until it leaves the EU in March 2019, giving the EU a significant head start. The delay opens up the possibility that Brexit might temporarily give the UK worse trade relations with its Commonwealth colleagues if the EU finalises its deal first and Britain is not included.

Some EU nations with big agricultural sectors are worried that opening up their markets entirely as part of the deal could harm domestic farmers. Some MEPs want to exclude some agricultural products from negotiations

Ms Malmström ruled out “full liberalisation” in order to protect European farmers but said that equally, agriculture could not be fully excluded from talks.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said in his State of the Union speech that countries from around the world were “lining up at our door” to do trade deals with the EU. He pledged that the deal would be in place by the end of his mandate.

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