The Australian red meat industry, under the leadership of the EU/UK Red Meat Market Access Taskforce, is maintaining high ambition for trade reform in both the European Union and the United Kingdom.
As with other free trade agreements the Australian Government has negotiated to date, liberalisation of restrictive market access arrangements remains the overwhelming priority of the taskforce. The current Australia-EU Free Trade Agreement negotiations and the envisaged Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement negotiations, provide this opportunity for trade reform.
Taskforce chair Andrew McDonald said Australia had a long history of trading with Europe, with the Australian red meat industry responding to European customer demand by developing dedicated supply chains, focused on meeting market-specific requirements.
Despite this focus, Australian red meat exports are constrained by the EU via disproportionately low volume import quotas and high above-quota tariffs. In terms of country-specific access, Australian exporters only have access to a 7,150 tonne high-quality beef quota (with a 20pc in quota tariff) and a 19,186 tonne combined sheepmeat/goatmeat quota (with zero in quota tariff).
"The opportunity presented by the A-EU FTA negotiations to modernise these access conditions and address the uneven playing field, especially in comparison to the preferential access other global red meat exporters have secured with the EU, is clearly worth pursuing," Mr McDonald said.
"The sixth round of A-EU FTA negotiations is scheduled to be held in Canberra next week, and this engagement is likely to facilitate further discussion on market access for goods.
"As Australia and the EU are like minded partners, with a shared commitment to rules-based international trade and given an environment of ongoing global disruption, we encourage negotiators from both sides to set the benchmark when it comes to a comprehensive and ambitious FTA outcome."
For future trade arrangements with the UK, the red meat industry remains equally optimistic.
In 1973, when the UK joined the European Economic Community (as it was known), Australian red meat exports to the UK fell substantially - with the UK succumbing to the EU's low quota and high tariff import regime.
However, following the UK officially leaving the EU on 31 January 2020, after 48 years of membership, the UK is now able to commence trade discussions with other parties including Australia.
"Although having formally left the EU, transition arrangements will apply for the remainder of this year, with Australia's current beef and sheepmeat access to the EU (incorporating the UK) remaining unchanged. This is because the UK effectively remains inside the EU market and customs union for the remainder of 2020," Mr McDonald said.
Over the next 11 months, the UK will no doubt be focused on securing a trade deal with the EU - but it is also able to commence, conclude, but not implement, other trade agreements.
"Given Brexit has come to fruition and in anticipation of government mandates which will trigger the commencement of negotiations, our industry Taskforce will be ramping up its advocacy, in partnership with the Australian Government, in pursuit of a trade enhancing FTA with the UK," Mr McDonald said.
The separate but parallel A-EU FTA and A-UK FTA negotiations have the potential to provide additional export opportunities for the Australian red meat industry - with large pools of consumers demanding high-quality imported beef and sheepmeat - which our industry is perfectly positioned to supply.