Trade Minister Simon Birmingham believes Australia’s free trade negotiations with the European Union aim to bust open existing restrictions but admits they are symbolic at a time of global trade wars.
“Symbolism is important in the face of US-China trade conflicts. It is actually critical to send the message that countries stand for trade,” Senator Birmingham told ABC television on Saturday.
While Australia already enjoys close trade ties with the EU, Senator Birmingham said many Australian agricultural producers, particularly in meat categories, face very small quotas and tight restrictions at present.
“We want to bust these open,” he said.
He also sees opportunities in a range of other categories, as well as the chance to grow services exports.
However, the EU could demand brand names in Australia like Prosecco and Feta be dropped, as was the term champagne in the past.
Senator Birmingham expects the EU will ask for certain “geographical identifications” to be protected as part of the negotiations.
“We will consult with industry, we will hear their arguments and we certainly won’t be trading anything away until we see the market access terms that the EU is offering us,” he said.
National Farmers’ Federation chief executive officer Tony Mahar concedes there’s “lots of tiny sacrifices” that go to make up a trade agreement.
“Should geographical indicators be part of this agreement, then what we will be looking for is increased market access for all of the Australian products,” he told ABC television, noting Australia is a net importer from the EU at present.
“We import more agricultural products from the EU than we export there. What we’re after is a levelling of the playing field a little bit.”