ABC Country Today with Libby Price

31 October 2023

Libby Price (Host): We're speaking with the Federal Government's assistant Trade Minister, Senator Tim Ayres about the breakdown in negotiations with the European Union and the Free Trade Agreement. How long had these negotiations been going? Were they with the previous Coalition government?


Senator Ayres: Well, they have been unable to be resolved now for more than four years. I have to pay tribute to the leading officials who've been involved in this set of negotiations. Many officials of the Trade Section and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have been working away assiduously in the national interest on these questions. They have done a remarkable job. It was the right call in July for Trade Minister Don Farrell to walk away from the discussions at that point and make it clear to the European Union leadership that Australia needed to see more progress in agriculture. And it was the right call, a tough call in the national interest just a few days ago in Osaka to again say that we really want a good comprehensive trade agreement with the European Union. It's an important market for Australia, for our goods and services, our critical minerals, our agricultural products. But we as a government, the Albanese government is determined to not just sign any deal, but only a deal that's in the national interest. And that's the approach that Don took. It's the tough approach, but it's the right approach in the national interest.


Libby Price: Well, as I said, it's been applauded by most of our agricultural sectors. Why will it take years before we can have another go at it?


Senator Ayres: Well, as Don pointed out in his interview in Osaka a day or so ago, the European Union is about to go into their election cycle. It's notoriously difficult to make progress on these agreements once the bilateral partner is engaged in election cycle. So, those issues around agricultural protectionism begin to have a bigger and bigger electoral impact. And so we anticipate that it will be some time before we can make meaningful progress. We are open to making progress at any time. We are open to negotiations over this agreement at any time if there's signs of progress in agriculture. But we're very clear sighted about the implication of not being able to reach an agreement last weekend is that it's likely to be twelve or 18 months before we can resume meaningful negotiations. We are, as I say, open for business, ready to talk, but with a pragmatic recognition that it's going to be some time before we get back around the table again.


Libby Price: Senator Tim Ayres, thank you so much for speaking to Country Today.


Senator Ayres: Thanks Libby.