Tehan said on Sunday that negotiating teams from the Australian and United Kingdom (UK) governments had made “enormous progress” over the past six weeks and would attempt to finalise the details over the next 24 to 48 hours.
“We’ve said all along that we want this to be an agreement of substance,” he told Sky News Australia on Sunday. “So, we continue to work through this. I was up last night, throughout the night, as negotiations continued. They’ll continue overnight tonight for us, and hopefully, we’ll be in a position to ink a deal.”
Tehan indicated that the Australian government was aiming for a “comprehensive and ambitious agreement” that would span sectors such as agriculture, services, and investment.
The minister was also firm on the agreement being “right” for Australia, and if it was not, then the government would delay signing.
“We want to make sure that it’s in Australia’s national interest, and if we need to be patient, we will be patient and wait to make sure that we have an agreement of substance in Australia’s national interest.”
The agreement would be one of the largest FTAs signed post-Brexit for the UK and could potentially expand the already thriving $35 billion trade relationship between the Commonwealth nations.
British farmers, however, have been wary of removing tariffs from Australian meat imports (a key focus of the Australian government), saying the local industry was unable to compete with their counterparts due to differences in regulatory and environmental standards.
National Farmers Federation President Fiona Simson responded to the concerns saying, “The volume of Australian red meat to the UK in the context of the UK’s total red meat imports and Australia’s total exports, is very, very small.”
According to a statement, in 2020, the UK imported 314,000 tonnes of beef, with only 1,567 tonnes coming from Australia. The UK also imported 67,500 tonnes of sheep meat, of which 14 percent came from Australia.
The race to get the FTA details locked in comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison concludes meetings with world leaders at the three-day Group of Seven (G-7) summit in Cornwall, UK.
The prime minister pledged to provide 20 million vaccine doses—a mix of Oxford-AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna—as part of a push to donate one billion vaccines globally.
Morrison also held a 40-minute trilateral sit-down meeting with UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and U.S. President Joe Biden.
Following the meeting, the leaders released a statement saying the three governments agreed that the “strategic context in the Indo-Pacific was changing and that there was a strong rationale for deepening cooperation between the three governments.”