Farmers wary of dud deal as EU trade pact talks resume

Australian farmers are wary a rushed trade agreement with Europe could leave them high and dry.

Trade Minister Don Farrell is heading to a G7 forum of trade ministers in Japan next week and will meet his European Union counterpart on the sidelines.

The two sides have expressed interest in inking a free trade agreement but Senator Farrell has been adamant nothing will be signed if it’s not in Australia’s interest.

National Farmers Federation president Fiona Simson said major improvements needed to be put on the table for the Australian sector and compromises should not be made just for the sake of an agreement.

Ms Simson said the trade minister should not have his “signing pen at the ready”.

“We’re yet to hear any indication that the EU is willing to put a commercially meaningful deal on the table,” she said.

“Everything we’ve seen so far would actually send parts of our sector backwards – we’ve never seen a proposed trade deal like it.

“The message from Australian farmers is clear and united – if it’s a dud deal, keep the signing pen in your pocket.”

The main sticking point for farmers is the future of geographical indicators that would stop Australians from using names such as feta and prosecco, and the size of the market access.

Senator Farrell is steadfast in his rejection of geographical indicators that would impact farmers.

“If the Europeans simply offer what they offered to me in July, I’m going to do exactly the same thing and reject the offer,” he told reporters in Canberra.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll get a better offer from the Europeans and if we do, then I’ll be discussing with all of the stakeholders about whether we should or should not accept the better offer.”

Opposition trade spokesman Kevin Hogan said the agriculture sector wanted “complete liberalisation” and market access similar to Australia’s free trade pact with Britain.

Grandfathering any geographical indicator clause, which means current producers can use the names but future farmers cannot, was not an option, he said.

“We must also not have anything that disadvantages our farmers over land management, animal transportation or maximum residue levels,” he said.

Belgium’s ambassador to Australia said he expected the deal to be signed this year with concessions on both sides.

Senator Farrell has flagged this could be the last chance to agree on a free trade pact ahead of Europe heading into domestic election cycles.

“If we lose this opportunity to get an agreement, then it’s two or three years before we get another chance to go back,” he said.

“I don’t want to wait that long – I’d like to get an agreement as soon as possible, but we’re not going to simply accept any deal.”


Dominic Giannini
(Australian Associated Press)


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