Green Asia

Free trade deal between EU and Australia collapses

SYDNEY: A free trade deal between the European Union and Australia has unravelled despite early optimism, with Canberra saying on Monday (Oct 30) it could take years until negotiations resume.

Since 2018 the painstaking discussions have picked through everything from chemicals to cosmetics, but have repeatedly come unstuck over market access for Australian products such as beef and sheep meat.

Australian agriculture minister Murray Watt said EU negotiators had refused to budge during the latest round of talks, held on the sidelines of a Group of Seven meeting in Japan.

“Unfortunately we just didn’t get the movement on the EU side that was required,” he told national broadcaster ABC on Monday.

Watt said it was unlikely talks would resume during “this current term of parliament” – indicating the Australian government may not return to the negotiating table until after the 2025 general election.

“I think it will be quite some time before any Australian government or any EU leadership is able to negotiate a deal. And that’s a bit of a shame,” Watt added.

A European Commission spokesperson said it had been optimistic of striking a deal in Osaka, but that Australia had “re-tabled agricultural demands that did not reflect recent negotiations”.

“The European Commission stands ready to continue negotiations,” the commission said in a statement.

French trade minister Olivier Becht late last week flagged a “number of very positive advances”, raising hopes that an agreement would be reached.

The two sides have tussled over how far Europe should prise open its markets to Australia’s sheep meat, beef and sugar exports.

At the same time, Europe wants better access to Australia’s rich deposits of “critical minerals”, easing its reliance on Russia and China for the key ingredients in clean-energy products such as wind turbines and electric car batteries.

In July, the two parties failed to reach a deal during talks in Brussels, with Australia saying it had not been guaranteed “significant” access to the European market for its agricultural products.

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