Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan says he expects to finalise a free trade agreement with the European Union by the end of next year despite the EU’s anger over the cancellation of a submarine contract with France.
The bloc postponed the latest round of talks, which were due to start on October 12, until November in solidarity with France after Australia scrapped the multi-billion dollar deal.
Instead, it secretly negotiated to build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with US and UK technology as part of a trilateral security pact between the three countries announced last month.
Tehan, in Italy for a meeting of the G20 developed countries, told Reuters in an interview he was not concerned by the delay in the talks and that reaching an agreement was strongly in the interests of both sides.
Asked when he expected it would be finalised, he said: “I suggest it’s likely the end-game will take some time and we’ll be looking towards the end of next year to conclude negotiations.”
He played down the damage to EU-Australian relations over the submarine dispute and said he had “very good discussions” with seven EU ministers at a meeting this week of the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris.
It will be more difficult to mend ties with France, which described Australia’s actions in walking away from the naval deal as a “stab in the back” and has so far declined any talks to patch things up.
“The most important thing is that we sit down so Australia can fully explain the decision we took because it was in our national interest,” Tehan said.
France said this week it would send its ambassador back to Australia to help redefine relations after recalling him for consultations in protest.
Turning to the environment, Tehan rejected criticism of Australia for not having produced updated targets on reducing carbon dioxide emissions ahead of next month’s United Nations climate talks, COP 26, in Glasgow.
He said the plan Australia presents in Glasgow to achieve net zero emissions “hopefully” by 2050 was more detailed than those of many countries that had ambitious goals but did not explain thoroughly how they would achieve them.
Tehan said Australia was pushing to have the major contribution of farm subsidies in emissions addressed by the G20 and the World Trade Organisation.
He said agriculture and land use accounted for 25 per cent of emissions and it was recognised it would be impossible for countries to meet their Paris agreement climate goals unless the question was tackled.
“So when it comes to issues that will help us reduce climate change we are in the forefront of pushing for action,” he said.