UK Minister Says He Wasn’t Surprised EU, Australia Trade Talks Fell Apart

(Bloomberg) -- The European Union’s “sacred cows” of agricultural protectionism make it difficult for the bloc to strike a free trade agreement with a country like Australia, UK Minister for Exports Malcolm Offord said.

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During a visit to Canberra, the UK minister said he wasn’t surprised when trade talks between Australia and the EU fell apart for a second time in October. Australia walked out of negotiations in Osaka amid frustrations at a lack of access for its agricultural exports to Europe.

“One doesn’t want to mix metaphors but they have sacred cows in that area,” Offord, whose full title is parliamentary under secretary of state, said in an interview in Canberra on Monday.

The UK minister was in Australia to mark six months since the start of a free trade accord between the two countries. The UK and Australia signed a deal in December 2021, the first of its kind since Britain voted to leave the EU.

The FTA drew flak in the UK at the time, including from a House of Lords committee that criticized the deal for prioritizing speed “at the expense of using the UK’s leverage to negotiate better outcomes.”

Offord dismissed the criticisms and said it was a “very different world now.” He added that “UK companies are beginning to really understand what this deal is all about.”

The minister said the speed of the agreement with Australia and the approval of Britain’s application to join the massive CPTPP trade agreement showed the agility of the post-Brexit administration. “Flexibility and being nimble and being able to move fast is not something you associate with being in Europe,” he said.

However, Offord said the UK hadn’t decided yet on whether it would support China or Taiwan joining the CPTPP agreement in the future. “We’re not yet a member, so it feels slightly premature to start talking about what we do with other members,” he said.

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