Australian Trade Minister Don Farrell has pulled the plug on a deal with his European Union counterparts, walking away from trade talks yesterday in Osaka, Japan.
Minister Farrell was due to finalise the Australia-EU free trade agreement but backed out because the EU’s latest offer on the table was ‘still not good enough’.
It’s the second time within months that the massive deal has fallen over amid ongoing negotiations. One sticking point remains the use by Australian producers of names such as feta, parmesan and Prosecco.
In a statement, Minister Farrell said he had travelled to Osaka with the intention of finalising the free trade agreement with the EU.
“My job as Australia’s Trade Minister is to get the best deal that we can for our producers, our businesses, our workers and our consumers.
“Unfortunately we have not been able to make progress,” the statement said.
Minister for Agriculture Murray Watt told ABC Radio National yesterday that EU negotiators had offered little compromise.
“In short, from Australia’s point of view, the EU has not budged significantly from the offer it put on the table three months ago.
“You’ll remember that about three months ago, negotiations didn’t proceed because the EU wasn’t offering enough, particularly when it comes to agriculture. And they’ve come back now with essentially the same offer with a couple of tweaks there.
“We’ve been utterly consistent throughout this process that we would only enter a free trade agreement with the EU if it was in Australia’s national interest, and in particular, if it offered new, commercially meaningful access to the European market for Australian agriculture. And that hasn’t happened. So, as with any negotiation, it takes two parties to reach an agreement.”
Opposition Trade Minister Kevin Hogan said the failure to reach an agreement was “disappointing,’ according to one ABC report, but he acknowledged it didn’t support Australian agricultural producers.
“The EU offer on geographical indicators would have also been too restrictive, particularly for products like parmesan, feta and Prosecco,” he was quoted as saying.
Wine industry response
Speaking from Osaka, Australian Grape & Wine chief executive Lee McLean commended ‘the resolve of Trade Minister Farrell in walking away from a free trade deal that was not in the best interests of Australian Prosecco producers.
“The Government has made the right decision.
“We are fully supportive of the Australian Government’s decision to step away from ongoing negotiations rather than accept a deal that is not in the interest of Australian prosecco producers or the broader agricultural sector.
“Any outcome that sought to reduce our existing market access would be detrimental to our burgeoning Prosecco industry and contrary to the intent of a free trade agreement which seeks to increase market access and remove trade barriers. Australian Prosecco producers just want to retain the right to use “Prosecco” as a grape variety in both our domestic and international markets.”
“We commend the unwavering efforts of Minister Farrell, Minister Watt, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and the experienced team of negotiators from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade who have tirelessly dedicated themselves to these negotiations. We encourage their continued dialogue with the EU to seek a mutually beneficial solution that will enhance opportunities for both European and Australian markets.”
In his statement yesterday, Trade Minister Farrell said that negotiations are set to continue and that he is “hopeful that one day we will sign a deal that benefits both Australia and our European friends”.
Agriculture Minister Watt said the resumption of negotiations may now take “some time” with the EU’s election cycle around the corner.
“I can’t see them being in a position to resume negotiations before that. We’ve made clear to them that we think it’s unlikely to occur within this current term of the Australian Parliament as well.
“So, it could be some time. And there’s a reason that no government has been able to reach an agreement with the EU up until now, […] these negotiations have been going on for many years. The EU takes a very strong stand. It’s a very protectionist market when it comes to agriculture, and they weren’t prepared to budge enough for it to be in our interests.”
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