October 17, 2017

EU seeks protection of agricultural products prior to FTA negotiations with Australia


The European Commission has recommended that EU-Australia talks for a free trade agreement should commence but states that provisions are to be made to protect vulnerable agricultural products through tariff quotas and longer transitional periods.

The Commission has released its negotiating directives last September, however, without identifying the products that are to be protected. Still, an impact study, released alongside the EC's recommendation, pointed to beef, sheep meat, dairy and sugar of particular concern, The Weekly Times reported. 

Two option were considered in the study: the first excludes sensitive products such as ruminant meat and dairy, rice, cereal, sugar, fruit and vegetables from the agreement. The second implements a full liberalisation of all products. Although the latter was preferred, protections will be in place for agriculture sectors which are easily affected by the FTA, in order "to mitigate the otherwise negative impact expected."

Full liberalisation could help Australia's beef and sheep meat exports grow by 539% while dairy may increase by 87%.

Once EU member states agree to the EC's recommendation, negotiations could formally begin.

Australia Trade Minister Steven Ciobio expected negotiations to start by the end of 2017 and acknowledged that the EC's recommendation attempts to achieve "the highest possible degree of trade liberalisation."

"This is an objective Australia is keen to ensure applies across all sectors including agriculture. We have no reason to believe the EU does not share this level of ambition," Ciobio said.

"We know the EU is always going to be complex. We know we couldn't just walk in there and all the tariffs would be removed," Tony Mahar, chief executive of National Farmers' Federation, commented.

"It's another market opening for Australian agriculture and we're optimistic."

- The Weekly Times