PM urges UK to seize trade ‘opportunity’

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has urged the United Kingdom to seize an opportunity to strike a trade deal with Australia ahead of talks with his counterpart Boris Johnson.

The pair were due to meet on Monday evening (Tuesday morning AEST) after Mr Morrison told an Australia-UK Chamber of Commerce audience earlier in the day that the process of the UK leaving the European Union could bring benefits.

“As the United Kingdom moves into a completely new generation of their trading relationships with the world, who better to start that journey with than Australia?” Mr Morrison said.

The Australian Financial Review reported that the two would meet again on Tuesday morning (Tuesday evening AEST) and were expected to sign an in-principle agreement towards a free trade deal.

Several key sticking points must be overcome before a deal can be reached.

Agriculture has firmed as the major obstacle, with consensus on Australian beef and lamb exports proving to be particularly elusive.

British dairy farmers are also sceptical about the trade deal.

Australian officials have described negotiations as tough and the two trade ministers have been in daily contact.

“At the end of the day there will always be hesitancy … when any country enters into a trade arrangement with any other country – that is quite normal,” Mr Morrison said.

“We have quite a lot of experience in that, we’ve been able to secure many of these arrangements, and of course you need to explain them to your populations but the ultimate explanation is jobs.

“We either are passionate about growing the markets in which we can operate – providing opportunities for our own producers and suppliers and services – or we will stay in a situation of being unable to take up those opportunities.”

Trade Minister Dan Tehan said enormous progress had been made on the agreement over the past six weeks but it was unclear whether a deal could be reached this week.

Mr Morrison described the effect of the UK joining the European common market – a forerunner to the EU – in the 1970s as “a devastating blow on Australian producers”.

“The Brexit that has occurred is an opportunity for us to pick up where we left off all those many years ago and to once again realise the scale of the trading relationship that we once had,” Mr Morrison said.

“And who better to do it than with Australia at this time?”

Mr Morrison has indicated he does not want to sign an agreement just for the sake of it, only to have the trade arguments down the track.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab met Mr Morrison on Monday afternoon and said the two governments would “work together to promote open societies and economies, protect our values and confront coercion”.

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