Press Conference Brussels, Belgium

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia-European Union free trade agreement negotiations

Minister for Trade, Don Farrell: All right, thank you very much for coming along on a beautiful Brussels afternoon. This is my third visit to Brussels in the last six months with the objective of trying to finalise a free trade agreement between Australia and the European Union. On this occasion we weren’t able to finalise an agreement. However, we continue the discussions with the Europeans. Our officials will continue to narrow down the issues that currently divide us with the Europeans.

We plan to meet again in August to again see if it’s possible to finalise an agreement. My job as Australia’s Trade Minister is to get the best deal that we can for our producers, our businesses and our wine makers. So we will continue constructive discussions with the Europeans with the ultimate aim of reaching an agreement.

Both of our countries – both of our groups want to reach an agreement. We’ve made that very clear. The Europeans have reiterated that today. They want an agreement. It’s in the interests of both of our groups. We will continue the discussions with a view that as quickly as we can, we can resolve all of the outstanding issues that currently divide us, and achieve a Australia-European free trade agreement.

Journalist: What is the main sticking point still?

Minister for Trade: Look, as we’ve said all along, Australia needs meaningful agricultural access to European markets. We continue to argue that the sensible thing to do in these negotiations with the Europeans is to establish meaningful economic access for Australian agricultural products, into the European markets.

Journalist: Do you have any more – can you be more specific on what the problem is? Is it beef, is it sheep? I mean, a bit more specific?

Minister for Trade: Look, as much as I’d like to, I don’t want to conduct the negotiations here in this beautiful park. We’ve made it very clear right from the start that we won’t simply accept any agreement. The agreement from the Australian point of view was to achieve meaningful agricultural access to European markets, and that’s what we are continuing to pursue in these negotiations.

Journalist: So the commission proposed a new offer yesterday and you were not able to react to that while you are here? You have to go back to Canberra to conduct with your colleague ministers, is that correct?

Minister for Trade: Again, I say I’m not going to conduct the negotiations in this beautiful park. What I can say is that we haven’t bridged the gap between what the European Union is offering and what Australian producers, businesses expect out of a free trade agreement. As I said before, my job is to get the best result for Australia. We weren’t able to achieve that on this occasion. I believe we will achieve it, but it’s going to require further negotiations. Goodwill on both sides is the reality. We’ve set aside our officials to continue those discussions, and in August we’ll meet again with the aim of trying to resolve an agreement as quickly as possible.

Journalist: Is there a date in August? And do you think that it will be resolved this year, early next year?

Minister for Trade: With some goodwill we can achieve an acceptable result for both Europe and Australia. But it will require some goodwill. It will require some hard work. It will require some long hours of negotiations, particularly between the officials. But we’re making progress. I’m optimistic based on the good relations I’ve established both with the Trade Minister and the Agricultural Minister that both of them want an agreement. I certainly want an agreement on behalf of Australia. I believe the opportunity is there but it will take more work, take more effort. We’re prepared to persevere and persist until we get the right result, both for Australia and for Europe.

Journalist: It’s a long way to come. How frustrated are you you didn’t get it over the line?

Minister for Trade: It would have been great to have achieved that yesterday or today, but I’m prepared to take as long as it takes, and to work as hard as I can on behalf of Australian producers and businesses to get that result. I’m confident that if there’s goodwill, if we can make progress towards an agreement, that we’ll have good news for Australian businesses and Australian producers.

Journalist: What does it mean for the access for [indistinct] critical raw materials in Australia?

Minister for Trade: We want to be good partners with the Europeans on critical minerals. Australia intends to be a renewable super power. We’re often described as the lucky country. Well, in respect of critical minerals, we are the lucky country. We’re on the cusp of a golden age in terms of critical minerals. We have all of the critical minerals that you are going to need to build the electric engines of the future to decarbonise our world.

We want to work with the Europeans on that. I think the Europeans understand just how important Australia is in that process, if they want a diversified trading relationship. If they want do what we want to do – which is diversify our trading relationship – then Australia is the perfect country to do it with. We want to see European investment in our critical minerals sector, in our rare earth sector, in our hydrogen sector. We want to see us working together with the Europeans to decarbonise. So I think the opportunities are there. We’re not at a position yet where we can say that we can’t reach an agreement. And as I say, I’m optimistic that with some goodwill, some hard work, some perseverance we’re going to get there.

Journalist: You say you will explore [indistinct], would you say you expect to be back in Brussels – maybe not in this park – but anyway, at the end of August or the start of September?

Minister for Trade: Look, I’d love to be back in this park. I will go anywhere I need to go, at any time of the day or night in order to get this agreement up. If that means coming back to Brussels, then that’s what I’ll do. But we can meet anywhere in the world to resolve this. It doesn’t have to be Brussels. If there’s that goodwill that I’m talking about, I believe we can get there.

Journalist: Were you, say, surprised by the decision to walk away? Were you surprise by the counter offer and is that why you’ve gone?

Minister for Trade: Look, I can only repeat myself- I’m not going to conduct the negotiations here in this beautiful park today. We’re getting closer. We’re not there yet. I believe we’ll get there.

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