It is a great pleasure to be here today and to have the opportunity to speak with you about deepening the trade and investment ties between our open, liberalised and advanced economies.
Australia is committed to working with the European Commission and Member States for the expeditious commencement of FTA negotiations. And we look forward to a continuing dialogue with all Members of the European Parliament.
A comprehensive bilateral free trade agreement between our economies will promote stronger trade in goods and services, as well as two-way investment. And just as importantly, because we are both advanced, sophisticated economies, this FTA has the potential to truly set the benchmark on what FTAs can achieve between like-minded partners.
This FTA will enhance mutually beneficial collaboration and cooperation in areas such as standards and regulation, the digital economy, research and innovation.
An FTA would help to advance the shared vision of Australia and the EU for the future of the global trading system. We already work together on many elements of the international trade and investment agenda; we have a common interest in supporting a strong rules-based multilateral trading system.
And we are working together to advance a number of plurilateral initiatives, including the Trade in Services Agreement, which is of high importance to both our policy and commercial interests and to the future health of the global economy.
An Australia-EU FTA will build on the strong economic links already in place.
The EU is our second largest trading partner when taken as a bloc. Although this is under-reported in the official data, the EU is also a very significant destination for Australian foreign investment, including in areas such as infrastructure and medical technology.
The EU is Australia’s largest investment partner. At least some of this investment represents European businesses seeking to use Australia as a launching pad for linking with commercial networks and value chains in Asia.
While tariffs in both Australia and the EU are comparatively low on average, there are some areas where high levels of border protection persist.
It is important a bilateral FTA sets the conditions for open, fair and equitable trade in food and agriculture products, reflecting our respective comparative advantage.
Australia has a track record of negotiating substantive and balanced outcomes on agriculture with our other FTA partners and we look forward to the opportunity to engage the EU in this important aspect of the agenda.
Indeed, Australia’s reputation for clean, green food production is well known throughout Asia. However, it may have created the myth that Australia’s agriculture exports are greater in volume than they actually are. In fact, the EU exports four times the value Australia does and produces around ten times more than we do.
On services, Australia also seeks through our FTAs the most comprehensive and liberalising outcomes possible. We approach services negotiations with the aim of seeking to eliminate or minimise barriers across as many sectors as possible as well as improving transparency.
An FTA with the EU presents another opportunity to promote arrangements for our professionals through the mutual recognition of professional licensing and qualifications.
We want an outcome in the FTA that will promote productive two-way investment flows. The investment provisions in our FTAs are aimed at facilitating investment and providing appropriate certainty for investors while protecting the Government’s ability to regulate in the public interest. And we should be able to achieve this without too much difficulty given we both possess robust and transparent legal systems.
Another benefit of working with like-minded partners is on the regulatory front: because we are both open and transparent economies, there should be much we can achieve in the regulatory space to provide greater certainty for businesses, including SMEs, while reducing red tape to the greatest extent possible.
As I am addressing the EU Parliament, it would be remiss of me not to specifically mention intellectual property. I wish to say one thing on this topic - in our view, there should be no one-size-fits-all approach to these issues in our FTAs. We seek a balance between the interests of rights holders, users, the public, and national interest.
In our recent FTAs we have found innovative ways to recognise the role of technology in the modern business environment. In our negotiations with the EU we expect to be able to innovate even further given our common interests and approaches. Fostering growth in the digital economy is an important focus for Australia’s international economic and trade agenda, including for our FTA negotiations.
FTAs are complex negotiations and there will undoubtedly be difficult issues that touch on areas of sensitivity. I see the current scoping phase as a useful mechanism in ensuring there is a clear understanding of our respective objectives.
We are committed to the timely conclusion of the scoping process and expeditious movement toward the launch of negotiations.
From Australia’s perspective, it is clear that a bilateral FTA is an idea whose time has come and the challenge now is to work towards an outcome that delivers real benefits for both sides and sets a positive example for the global trading system.
I look forward to maintaining an open dialogue with members of the European Parliament as we take this initiative forward.
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