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Analysis

Australian Labor repudiates idea of FTA with post-Brexit UK

by Denis MacShane | 13.03.2017

Denis MacShane is the former Europe Minister and a Senior Adviser at Avisa Partners, Brussels.

One of the key claims of Theresa May’s government is that, once outside the EU, a new nirvana of bilateral free trade deals beckons. Liam Fox has already boasted that a “working group” had been set up with Australia to discuss a free trade agreement (FTA) as soon as the UK has finished negotiating Article 50.

Not so fast, Liam. Australia’s high commissioner in London has said that a pre-condition for any free trade deal would be Britain relaxing immigration rules to allow Australians to travel freely to the UK. This runs counter to the prime minister’s obsession with reducing, and certainly not increasing, the number of immigrants arriving in Britain.

Now comes a bathtub of freezing water from Australia on Downing Street’s faith that our No 1 Commonwealth friend can deliver a quickie bilateral FTA. The current Australian conservative (“Liberal” in Oz-speak) government is sinking fast in the polls. The Australian Labor Party won a massive victory in Western Australia this weekend – which is a bit like the UK Labour Party winning all seats in Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire.

The Western Australia Liberals entered into an alliance with the Marine Le Pen of Australia, rabid anti-immigrant obsessive Pauline Hanson, and voters turned left rather than back UKIP-style politics. The Australian Labor Party has got back on its feet with an impressive group of shadow ministers. And they are not interested in a bilateral trade deal.

Chris Bowen, the Australian Labor Party’s shadow treasurer, told a conference last week that bilateral trade deals such as that proclaimed by UK Brexit ministers are a “third-best outcome”. Instead he said Australia should focus on multilateral deals and regional agreements.

“Bilateral free trade agreements have only become fashionable as the world appeared to have given up any meaningful multilateral reform, frustrated by repeated failed attempts.

“But free trade agreements have eaten up the resources of trade negotiators and consumed the political bandwidth. These deals take up considerable energy of the body politic and in the process take the focus off genuine multilateral reform.”

Bowen was aiming at the Australian Treasurer Scott Morrison who visited London in January to promote a bilateral free trade deal following the UK’s Brexit vote split.

Instead Bowen argued that the 16-member Asian-Pacific Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) should “take centre stage” as a “pathway to broader liberalisation in APEC”.

The next federal election is not due until 2019, just after the Article 50 talks end. If Australia elects a Labor government, the chances of a bilateral free trade deal are slim.

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    Edited by Luke Lythgoe

    One Response to “Australian Labor repudiates idea of FTA with post-Brexit UK”

    • Liam Fox is an embarrassment to this country. Without doubt, back in 2011, this man should have been prosecuted for Misconduct in a Public Office/Official Secrets Act for allowing his boyfriend unauthorised access to secret government meetings.