EU trade deal talks stall in Belgium

James Nason, 09/06/2023

Media reports emanating from Trade Minister Don Farrell’s visit to Belgium this week suggest negotiations to secure an Australia-EU trade agreement negotiations have stalled rather than sped up, despite earlier optimism from senior trade figures of an outcome during the European summer.

In an interview with the Trade Minister following two days of trade discuissions at EU headquarters this week, the Australian Financial Review reported that the European Union refused to improve its offer on better market access for Australian farm exports.

Trade Minister Don Farrell meeting with EU trade representatives in Brussells this week. Image: EU commissioner
Janusz Wojciechowski, Twitter

He outlined plans to return to Brussels in July, but conceded it was “looking more difficult” to land the deal in coming months.

Europe is a large and highly valuable market for agricultural produce, but is barricaded behind steep tariffs and restrictive quotas, designed to protect European farmers.

Australia’s market access for red meat, for example, is limited to tiny volumes of just 3389t of beef quota (20% in quota tariff) and 5851t of sheepmeat/goatmeat quota.

Europe’s powerful farm lobby is resistant to reductions in tariff and quota levels, and also wants greater protections for geographical indicators, to stop farmers from other countries using a wide range of names such as feta, parmesan and prosciutto, extending to some processed meats.

Mr Farrell said Australia is seeking a deal, but will not accept any deal “just for the sake of it”.

Similar sentiments were expressed by Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt during an interview with ABC Radio National this week.

“Obviously, our strong preference is to have a deal reached to open up that market access for our agricultural producers and all sorts of other Australian goods and services producers. But if it’s not in our national interest to do the deal, then we won’t do it,” he said.

Minister Watt said Australia is pushing for “commercially meaningful expansion of new markets for our producers for this deal to be worth doing”.

He also reiterated the Australian government’s desire to let farmers keep using the GIs, explaining that Australian producers have been using the same names for generations and have an emotional attachment to their product also.”

“This isn’t just an emotional issue for European producers; it’s an emotional issue for Australian producers because, as you said, we’ve had a lot of migration post-World War II from Europe to Australia that has seen our producers – our wine producers, our dairy producers – bring their own products from their home countries and make them here.

“We, of course, have very high-quality prosecco, feta, parmesan and other products as well. And we want to make sure that the importance from an economic and emotional perspective for our producers is recognised by the EU too.”

Asked if Australia is ultimately asking for something that EU member states “will just not agree to”, Minister Watt said he believed what Australia was asking for is perfectly reasonable – “especially when you compare it to what other countries have been able to negotiate with the EU”.

“I obviously can’t go into exact detail about what we’re asking for, but we have certainly modelled our approach on what other countries have been able to negotiate with the EU.

“So we think we are being quite reasonable in terms of our ask here.”

Australia also had bargaining strength on issues such as access to minerals.

“… We’re making the point to the EU it’s important to them – they want access to our critical minerals. There are US car makers right now who have been able to obtain preferential access to our critical minerals.

“And if the EU want the ability to do that for their car makers and other products, then we hope that they can understand our position on other things.”


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