The European Parliament Research Service published an overview of the ‘State of play of EU-Australia FTA talks’ for MEPs this week.
In May 2018, the Council authorised the Commission to negotiate a free trade agreement (FTA) with Australia. Negotiations were officially launched in June 2018. Between July 2018 and September 2020, eight negotiation rounds took place. The first chapter of the prospective EU-Australia FTA, concluded at the technical level, is on small and medium-sized enterprises. The ninth negotiation round started on 30 November 2020.
Australia is a valuable and like-minded trade partner of the EU. However, the EU does not have a preferential market access arrangement with Australia, thus EU economic operators are in a less favourable situation compared to those from countries that already have preferential treatment. While the bilateral cooperation agreements, such as the Mutual Recognition Agreement (MRA) and the Wine Agreement, provide a good basis for FTA talks, the FTA agreement would have to address several sensitive issues, such as agriculture.
The EU is committed to taking its Member States’ agricultural sensitivities fully into consideration. Accordingly, the Council negotiating directives state that the most sensitive products should benefit from specific treatment, such as longer transition periods or tariff-rate quotas for certain agricultural products. Tariff liberalisation for processed agricultural and food products is also an important EU objective, as is the liberalisation of, for instance, EU car, machinery and chemicals exports to Australia. Moreover, the EU has a key interest in gaining a favourable agreement on non-tariff barriers, including sanitary and phyto-sanitary (SPS) measures.
Trade in services and investment are a major focus for EU negotiators, as is the protection of EU geographical indications (GIs). The EU also strives for better public procurement market access, including for services, at state and sub-federal level. According to the negotiating directives, the FTA should include, among other things, a specific chapter on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and provisions on the labour and environmental aspects of trade and sustainable development (TSD).
In its summary of negotiating aims, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has highlighted several objectives to be placed on the negotiating agenda. These include significantly improved EU market access for agricultural, industrial and services exports; enhanced bilateral investment flows; ambitious digital trade commitments; increased opportunities for Australian suppliers in EU public procurement markets; trade and investment facilitation in intellectual property (IP) and a mutually acceptable framework to protect GIs; and measures to assist SMEs.
Progress made during the negotiations
Since the start of the negotiations, the European Commission has published both its textual proposals for the negotiations and the reports of the negotiation rounds with Australia. Negotiation reports have also been issued by Australia. Below is a summary of the developments in several negotiation areas based on the reports of the first eight negotiation rounds held between July 2018 and September 2020.
The full overview is available : https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/ATAG/2020/659381/EPRS_ATA(2020)659381_EN.pdf
Photo Credit : https://europa.eu/newsroom/events/eu-australia-leaders-meeting-video-conference_en