BARNABY Joyce has departed from recent high level talks confident of securing a potential post-Brexit trade deal between Australia and the EU that he says will be about quality, not volume for farm exports.
Mr Joyce visited the UK and EU for a tour over the past week to undertake various diplomatic tasks, including formal and informal discussions towards securing new Free Trade Agreements (FTA) following the UK’s vote to depart from the EU.
The Agriculture and Water Resources Minister said he was buoyed by talks with EU Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan and ministerial counterparts in the UK.
Mr Joyce said a scoping study had already been done and the next phase of the free trade agreement process was for the EU to appoint a mandate to a negotiating Commissioner.
“The Commissioner will have to get a negotiating mandate from the EU council, and if that possibly happens towards the end of this year, or as soon as possible, then negotiations can start probably later this year or early next year,” he said.
“But the good thing about it is, I didn’t meet one person who said they don’t want to do it.”
Mr Joyce said due to Brexit, he spoke to leaders from both the EU and UK about FTAs and agricultural aspects of any deal.
“If you did a free trade deal with the EU now you’d be doing one with England but you won’t be shortly,” he said.
“Things seem to be progressing well and it’s low hanging fruit as far as trade deals go because the EU want to do a trade deal and have done the scoping study already.
“My discussions with Commissioner Phil Hogan seem to be favourable and considering he represents Ireland - which obviously would probably be more sensitive around agricultural issues - that was a good sign.
“Because of Brexit and because of a few concerns around America and where President Trump is going to, the UE and England are keen to progress bilateral arrangements with Australia.”
Mr Joyce said the EU deal carried “sensitivities” around geographic indicators on products like fetta and parmesan cheese.
He said as a prelude to an FTA, he’d also be looking at how the re-negotiations progressed over the EU’s 48,000 tonne quota limit on beef imports.
“I’ll try and put forward the best case for Australia that we’ve been a good partner and we haven’t caused them any problems,” he said.
“I hope that’s a reason to be dealt with favourably.”
Mr Joyce said it was “pertinent” that he was holding the talks now because the 48,000 tonne beef quota, that was also for HGP (hormonal growth promotants) free product, “if we lose sight of that, we could lose a big section of the quota to the US”.
“We got a really good deal last time,” he said.
“Basically the quota was something that was carved out for the US and then the US, I think it might have been because of mad cow disease, they dropped out of it and we picked up a big section of it.
“Now the US is back and so we want to make sure we keep a big section for ourselves because we’ve been a good trading partner to them.”
Overall, Mr Joyce said the EU FTA represented a good opportunity at the premium end of the export market, for Australian farmers.
“If someone said the FTA would be a boom in volume – I don’t think it would be – but the first fear we have to allay over there is that we’re not going to flood their market,” he said.
“If they believe an FTA with us is going to flood their market it’s going to be a vastly harder thing to do.
“We have to show that, we feed about 60 million people, and we have a target to double our agricultural production and we’re about a third of the way there with about 29 per cent growth.
“But even if we fed 120 million people that’s not quite enough to feed the island of Java.
“So they’re not going to be awash with Australian product and I want to make sure they don’t have an unnecessary fear about doing a free trade agreement with Australia.”
Mr Joyce said the EU was also an important dairy market.
“The people who would be most concerned about Brexit would be Irish beef farmers because most of their beef goes into England and if it doesn’t go into England then it has to go into Europe and if it goes into Europe that’ll change the quota arrangements for Australia,” he said.
Australia currently exports about $3.1 billion worth of agricultural exports to the EU and is the second largest supplier of sheepmeat behind NZ.