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“I’m sure the Prime Minister Johnson would welcome that as well. But Australia is looking for the right deal. Not any deal.”
Sticking points remain on agriculture, where Australia is dissatisfied with the British proposal to take 15 years over phasing out tariffs and quotas on beef, lamb and sugar, and on labour mobility.
Mr Tehan would not be drawn on these specifically, but said that if the Australia-UK deal was not right, the two sides would have to negotiate all over again when Britain begins talks to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which groups 11 Pacific Rim countries.
“If we get this right, then that means the UK will not have to negotiate again with us during their accession to the CPTPP. So, there’s a lot at stake for us to make sure that we get this agreement right,” he said.
“So, we want to make sure that the substance is there, that it’s comprehensive, that it’s ambitious, and if we need to take more time we’ll take more time. My hope is that over the next 48 hours we’ll be able to resolve the outstanding issues, but the clock’s ticking and time is running out.”
Britain is under pressure from its farming industry, which worries that it will be undercut by cheaper Australian product. The farmers say British goods are more expensive because they are produced to more exacting environmental and animal welfare standards.
The Australian deal is under particular pressure because it would be the first major new agreement Britain has signed since leaving the EU, and farmers see it as setting a precedent that will then be demanded by New Zealand, the US and Canada.
The FTA has far greater political significance to the British government than to Australia: Mr Johnson and Ms Truss want to use it to demonstrate the benefits of Brexit and showcase Britain’s new role as a global free-trader.
Mr Tehan and Ms Truss and their teams have been negotiating almost constantly since Mr Tehan’s visit to London in April, after which he declared a breakthrough and fired the starter’s gun on a “sprint”, with Mr Morrison’s visit for the G7 Summit as the finish line.
There has been speculation the FTA’s chapter on climate change might have put grit into the wheels of the talks, but Mr Tehan denied this.
“The discussions on the environment have been quite straightforward and not one of the sticking points. We’re basically agreed on the approach we will take on the environment – that is, that multilateral negotiations are where things like emissions reductions are negotiated,” he said.
“Both countries are prepared to commit to work cooperatively on environmental issues, including on emissions reduction, on technology which helps emissions reduction.”
But he did not flesh out any detail about the other sticking points. He said the negotiators needed to make sure that the in-principle agreement which Mr Morrison and Mr Johnson would sign covered all the issues in the 700 or 800 pages of legal text, even if the details would be nutted out later.