You may be aware that Australia is currently in negotiations with the European Union on a new free trade deal. This is a good thing, with trade deals providing better opportunities for our farmers and businesses to export more goods and services into other countries with fewer taxes or barriers in their way.
Trade and access to international markets plays a critical role in Australia’s continued economic success, having contributed over one-quarter of our economic growth over the past five years. Trade currently employs one in five Australians.
It’s even more important right now with uncertainty and disruption caused by events such as the ongoing US-China trade war, the United Kingdom-EU Brexit debate and even tensions between Japan and South-Korea. That’s why as Federal Trade Minister I’m focused on opening up new markets for Australian farmers and businesses, and this includes concluding a high-quality and comprehensive trade deal with the EU.
At times our farmers have done it tough on many levels. This includes our terms of access into the EU market, with very restrictive quotas and quite high tariffs in place on a range of goods. For many farmers or businesses the EU and its 28 member countries (27 should Brexit proceed) have represented something of a closed shop.
There is no doubt the EU presents huge opportunities for Australian farmers and businesses – it boasts more than 500 million consumers, and is already our third largest export market, despite the current trade restrictions.
Not a week goes by where farmers and industry groups don’t raise the potential gains to be won through tariff reductions and quota increases through this agreement. Take the apple industry for example – we’ll be targeting the 9 per cent tariff that currently puts our producers at a real disadvantage compared with our competitors. Or take sheep meat, where our counterparts across the ditch in New Zealand can send around 250,000 tonnes of sheep meat to the EU each year if they want whilst Australia’s quota is less than 10 per cent of that.
Of course, with any trade agreement, securing the best outcomes for Australia means we’ve got to engage and negotiate with the EU on its interests, as they will for ours. That’s why in August I published the list of terms known as ‘Geographical Indications’ or GIs that the EU has asked to protect.
The EU’s requests overwhelmingly relate to food and agricultural product names, as well as spirits. To be very clear, Australia hasn’t agreed to any terms yet and this consultation process is all about hearing directly from Australian industry so I can go back to the negotiating table and fully represent their views in our negotiations.
That’s why in the past few weeks I’ve been out and about whether it be in Northern Victoria, the NSW South Coast or SA’s Barossa VaIley and Adelaide Hills, meeting and talking to producers, especially from the dairy industry, about any concerns relevant to them.
It’s been important to have the opportunity to provide clarification around this process and fully explain the terms the EU is requesting. For example, the EU is requesting protection for Camembert de Normandie, but that would not prohibit Australian cheesemakers from calling their cheese camembert. The same holds for brie, mozzarella, emmental, pecorino, gouda, and provolone. For our smallgoods producers, I can confirm the EU list won’t stop sales of prosciutto, speck or salami.
Also, how the EU wishes to protect the name may vary and is all up for negotiation. This could mean that the EU simply stipulates that producers need to put the word ‘Australian’ in front of the term, so instead of ‘Feta’ it will need to be referred to as Australian Feta. In other agreements the EU has been willing to put grandfathering arrangements in place, so that would mean the name protection doesn’t apply to any existing producers.
We can make no promises about what the EU will or won’t agree to, but I do promise that we will drive a hard bargain for Australian interests. It is because there are sensitive issues that we are going through this transparent process – so we can fully represent industry concerns in our FTA negotiations and defend Australia’s interests robustly.
It’s worth remembering that we did this with the wine industry a number of years ago. ‘Champagne’ is probably the most well-known example of a GI, which has now been protected under the Wine Agreement we have with the EU for around a decade. In the end, our wine industry responded by being more proudly and parochially Australian with Australian wines, including sparkling wines, growing as an Australian export.
Australia’s trade success over recent years has been astounding, pushing our exports and trade surpluses to record levels. Government trade deals have helped to make this possible but the effort and ingenuity of our farmers and businesses are what’s ultimately delivered increased export dollars into Australia. That’s why we’re going into bat to help them to get the highest prices for their goods or services with the fewest impediments.
Standing up for industry is also why we are asking for their views on key issues like GIs. Australian industry and business are invited to read the EU’s list of requested GIs at https://dfat.gov.au/aeufta/gis and to make their views heard by 13 November 2019 https://dfat.gov.au/aeufta/pop
- The Honorable Simon Birmingham is the Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment and Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate.