AUSTRALIA is negotiating hard to secure a "comprehensive and ambitious" trade deal with the European Union the nation's Trade Minister says.
European Union (EU) negotiators were in Canberra recently to continue hammering out a free-trade agreement with Australia.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said there were "major opportunities" in the EU, however at the moment farmers were "significantly disadvantaged" when compared to many other nations.
"Take sheepmeat for example - New Zealand can currently send around 250,000 tonnes of sheep meat to the European Union each year, whilst our quota is less than 10 per cent of that, sitting at around 20,000 tonnes," Mr Birmingham said.
"Last year, the EU also agreed to provide the United States with a dedicated country-specific quota for high quality beef imports.
"Whilst there is a seven year transition to these arrangements and Australia is still able to access the remainder of the EU quota with other major suppliers, this was a disappointing outcome, particularly after our government worked hand-in-hand with the Australian beef industry to advocate against it.
"This decision has however only strengthened our resolve to secure a comprehensive and ambitious Australia-EU FTA that gives our producers significantly improved access into this large market."
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Mr Birmingham said the aim was to open up the EU market by eliminating or dramatically improving the terms of tariffs and quotas.
"It's a market of more than 500 million people, and is already our third largest export market despite there being heavy restrictions in terms of high tariffs and low quotas on our exports into the EU," he said.
"Australians can be confident that we will drive a very hard bargain with the EU, to achieve an overall agreement that delivers more opportunities for Australian farmers."
Another round of negotiations will be held in Canberra this month and the government is aiming to have the deal signed off by the end of 2020.
Beef HGP could be a sticking point
Australian beef groups have flagged hormonal growth promotants (HGPs) as a potential hurdle, because they are currently banned in the EU.
Mr Birmingham said the government would "highlight the safety and quality" of Australian beef and advocate for its free flow in the deal.
"Our beef is well regarded in markets right around the world and we have absolute confidence in the safety of all of our beef produced in Australia," he said.
"The use of different technologies to enhance the productivity of the beef industry are well-established practices that are acknowledged as being safe."
No agreement on geographical indications protections
Another concern raised by various agricultural bodies is the EU's stance on geographical indications (GI), where products such as feta cheese can only use the "feta" tag if it is produced within particular regions of Greece.
Mr Birmingham said although the government understood the importance the EU placed on the matter, at this stage Australia had "not agreed to protect any GI names".
"Our priority is to ensure our farmers and businesses have better opportunities to sell their products to the EU's 500 million consumers," Mr Birmgingham said.
"I continue to engage with Australia's dairy industry, and have met many dairy farmers and cheese makers right across Australia, to hear their views, so that we can go back to the EU and argue the strongest possible case.
"We ran a public consultation process last year to better understand the views of Australian industry, including those of the dairy industry, so that we can work to secure the best possible overall deal for Australia."