A former UK high commissioner to Australia says it will drive a hard bargain in trade talksby Helen Liddell / June 12, 2018 / Leave a comment
“The Tyranny of Distance” is how Australian business leaders explain favouring trade with Asia compared to trade with the UK. It should serve as a warning to those who see a Free Trade Agreement with Australia as part of the post-Brexit “new dawn.” There are plenty of them: Boris Johnson, Liam Fox and co have long talked up the prospect of a revived “Anglosphere” riding to Brexit Britain’s rescue.
But the numbers tell the true story. In 2016, UK exports to Australia were worth £8.6bn, while exports to tiny Ireland, with a population of only 4.5m, were £26.7bn.
An FTA with Australia would be very welcome, but keep it in perspective, there is a population of 25m in Australia but more than 500m in the EU, a lot of trade to make up. Nostalgic views of the power of the Commonwealth must take second place to hard headed realism.
Make no mistake, there is a huge wave of goodwill towards the UK. Almost two million Australians are entitled to UK Passports. The Brits, even the Poms, come second (with the Americans) to the New Zealanders in terms of the warmth towards them. Academics do claim, however, that warmth ebbs and flows with English success on the cricket pitch. And that is not a joke!
The future will not be sealed trading Irn Bru for Sauvignon Blanc. Although gold trading is a very lucrative two-way trade. We should want an FTA with Australia, and we will get one, but the Aussies know how to strike a hard deal. The deal will be signed when it is right, not necessarily on the day after Brexit, as the media speculates.
Modern geopolitics and economics causes Australia to look towards China and the United States as critical partners. It takes 40 days, on average, for goods to travel between Australia and the UK. Notwithstanding the potential for crowded lorry parks in Dover, it takes about 40 minutes for goods to travel from Britain to continental Europe. It is against that background that an FTA has to be built.
Australia already has FTAs with countries like China, Japan, Chile, Korea, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand and, of course, the US. Some big ones are in the offing, the Gulf…