Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has today put pressure on the UK to wrap up a trade deal with his home nation before the end of the year.
Abbott, who is now a top trade adviser to the UK government, said he wanted both sides to “put all their cards on the table” before the end of the year and to close a deal before 2021.
This is seen as unlikely within the Department for International Trade, with a source close to trade secretary Liz Truss recently telling City A.M. that an Australian agreement would not be completed this year and that it is not as high a priority as a potential US-UK deal.
Speaking to Westminster’s trade committee today, Abbott said: “I know on both sides there is an eagerness to try and get the Australian deal done before Christmas and I hope in the next negotiating session both sides are prepared to put all their cards on the table so the best possible deal can be hammered out.
“Ideally a deal between Britain and Australia would involve no tariffs, no quotas, as full as possible mutual recognition of standards and qualifications and as free as possible movement of people for well paid work, not welfare.”
City A.M. exclusively reported last month that increased freedom of movement would be included in any trade deal struck between the UK and Australia.
The Telegraph also reported in August that some of the sectors that may benefit from a deal were financial services, telecoms and technology.
However, there are widespread doubts a deal will be done any time soon.
David Henig, director of the European Centre For International Political Economy think tank, said Abbott’s push for a UK-Australia deal this year was unrealistic.
“Besides, it’s not actually clear to me what the big issues are here or what the big opportunities are,” he said.
“What are we actually gaining from this? We don’t know enough of what’s lying behind [negotiations], let’s hope we find out more about why we’re doing it.”
Abbott is one of Australia’s most prominent conservatives and was the country’s Prime Minister between 2013 and 2015.
He was appointed over the summer as an unpaid adviser to Britain’s Board of Trade and is charged with trying to drum up international support for the UK’s post-Brexit “Global Britain” agenda.
Henig said Abbott’s calls today for Australia to get a trade deal with the UK, and his position on the Board of Trade, presented a potential conflict of interest.
“Australian farmers use some of the same controversial techniques that the US uses,” he said.
“He could be pushing the UK government to accept lower agricultural standards, because that would help [Australian] farmers.”
A Department for International Trade spokesperson said: “The UK is ending free movement with the EU and has no plans to seek equivalent arrangements with Australia.
“We want an ambitious trade deal with Australia and this extends to the temporary movement of skilled professionals, however it is too early to say what the final deal may look like”