International Trade Secretary Liz Truss has said she believes a free trade agreement with Australia could be an “exemplar” for other nations on “what the future of trade can look like”.
Official negotiations for a post-Brexit trade deal between the two countries began last week, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying the agreement would bring the countries “closer than ever before”.
In celebration of the negotiations getting under way, the Australian British Chamber of Commerce brought Ms Truss and her Australian counterpart, trade minister Simon Birmingham, together for a webinar on each country’s hopes and expectations for the trade deal.
After declaring that the free trade agreement would serve to further the “excellent” relationship between the two countries, Ms Truss said she was confident that the deal would establish a global benchmark for other nations to strive for.
“I expect that the deal that we strike with Australia will be one of the most advanced deals in the world,” Ms Truss said.
“It will set out terms of trade others will want to look to as they develop their own trading arrangements.
“I see this as being an exemplar deal where two like-minded free trading nations can show the rest of the world what the future of trade can look like.”
During the web conference, she also touched on the importance of ensuring any trade deal between the two countries accommodates the needs of small businesses to thrive in a post-Covid economy.
Ms Truss said the UK and Australia share “the importance of not putting up trade restrictive barriers at this time when we seek to recover from Covid”.
She said: “I think there’s a real opportunity for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). One of the things that we will be looking for in the Australia deal is an SME chapter that cuts red tape on SMEs and makes it a lot easier for them to get into the Australian market.”
Her comments come after Make UK, a body representing the nation’s manufacturing sector, said any trade deal with Australia should have an “emphasis on helping the UK’s smaller businesses” – comments echoed by the Federation of Small Businesses.
Ms Truss added that the trade deal with Australia is one of the first steps towards turning the UK into a “global trading hub”.
“Australia has, as a nation, shown itself to be capable of striking free trade deals with virtually everybody,” she said.
“They’ve got a very good free trade deal with the United States, also with various countries across the Pacific and we see Australia as a key partner in that region of the world.
“Ultimately our aim… is to be a global trading hub. It’s to have an excellent relationship with the EU, an excellent relationship with the Americas and also an excellent relationship with Asia-Pacific – but as we undertake that journey I think it’s fair to say there is no stronger ally than Australia.”
Mr Birmingham largely echoed Ms Truss’s comments, while also stressing the importance of businesses from both countries taking an active role in the negotiations.
“I know we go into this with similar ambitions and similar belief that because of our common outlook and values, this is an agreement we should be able to strike quickly and easily,” Mr Birmingham said.
“We aren’t the first ones that the UK has commenced negotiating with but we certainly hope that we can work through (the deal) faster than any others.
“These negotiations will be formed by the input of others. The more that… businesses take advantage of the opportunities provided by the UK system and the Australian system to engage in consultation and to put forward ideas of where they see barriers at present… the better the opportunity it is for us to achieve an agreement that meets all of their outcomes.”
The first round of trade talks between the UK and Australia, along with New Zealand, is expected to begin – via video conference – in the coming weeks.