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Exclusive: The government is preparing to finalise its trade agreement with Australia in time for the COP26 climate change summit, when Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will be in Britain to sign it, PoliticsHome can reveal.
The UK and Australia reached an agreement in principle on a post-Brexit trade deal in June, when Morrison was in Britain for the G7 summit. Morrison and Prime Minister Boris Johnson thrashed out the main parts of the deal over a Downing Street dinner.
Now the government plans to confirm the finer details of the accord, which Johnson said marked a “new dawn” in the UK’s relationship with Australia, before Morrison travels to Glasgow for COP26 in early November. This way the Australian premier will be able to sign it when he arrives.
A government source told PoliticsHome: “Given the agreement in principle happened while Morrison was in town for G7, it is reasonable to assume there’d be a desire to have more for his return.”
The Liz Truss-led Department for International Trade is also confident of reaching an agreement in principle with New Zealand on a post-Brexit trade deal this month.
Truss, the Secretary of State for International Trade, last week said the UK was “closing in” on a deal with Wellington and that there had been “great progress” in the latest round of talks.
The government has in recent weeks sought to reassure farmers at home that the trade deal with Australia will not undercut their industry, amid warnings that dropping tariffs on beef and lamb imports will make it more difficult for British farmers to compete with their Australian counterparts.
It has confirmed there will be a cap on tariff-free imports from Australia for 15 years and that “safeguards” will prevent meat produced at lower animal welfare standards from entering the UK.
The industry is still waiting to see details of these protections, however.
As part of the trade agreement, tariffs will be dropped on cars and Scotch whisky heading from the UK to Australia, and wine and confectionary coming the other way. The economic benefit of the deal is set to be neglible, though, with the government projecting a 0.02% boost to UK GDP.
Johnson in June said he was not going to “exaggerate” the economic impact of the Australia agreement, stressing it is “more important politically and symolically” for post-Brexit Britain.
“We’re opening up to each other and this is the prelude to a general campaign of opening up to the world,” the Prime Minister said at a joint press conference with Morrison.
Labour launched a stinging attack on the plan, with Shadow Trade Minister Bill Esterson saying it would be “downright insulting” for the two leaders to sign the deal at COP26.
“The draft trade deal with Australia says nothing new on climate change, and serves only to increase the amount of Aussie beef travelling ten thousand miles to reach our plates,” he said.
“It’s a deal between two Prime Ministers who are missing in action on the climate crisis, and it will just about sum up the contempt they have for saving our planet if they sign it at COP.”
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