Thursday 28 January 2021 7:18 am

Exclusive: UK's next free trade deal set to be with Australia

The UK’s next free trade deal is set to be with Australia, with the agreement to give Brits greater freedom to live Down Under and provide a major boost for the UK’s telecoms sector.

The deal could be completed as soon as March, with UK residents to benefit from cheaper Australian food and wine, while Stoke’s famous pottery manufacturers will benefit from lower export tariffs.

A source close to international trade secretary Liz Truss said the Australia talks were in “pole position” to wrap up before New Zealand and US negotiations, which are also ongoing.

The next round of UK-Australia talks are due early next month.

City A.M. reported in October that the deal will allow young UK citizens and business travellers greater opportunities to live and work in Australia and vice versa.

It can also now be revealed that the deal will extend free mobile roaming for Brits travelling to Australia and open up the country’s market to UK telecommunications companies.

Truss and her team believe there are significant growth opportunities in the Australian market for the UK’s telecoms firms, but there has been some resistance from Australia’s largest telecommunications company Telstra.

“The Australian mobile market doesn’t seem so deep and there has been some pushback from Telstra and other companies,” the source said.

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“Their companies don’t seem as keen to open up the market, but it really is a key retail ask for us.”

Tariffs are also set to be slashed on agricultural products going in both directions and talks are continuing about a potential services chapter.

Truss’ team are also asking for tariffs to be dropped for some UK manufacturing sectors, such as for pottery makers.

A senior Department of International Trade official told City A.M. that “there is a race between Australia and New Zealand” to be the UK’s next trade deal and that it was “neck and neck”.

“They should both be around Easter, maybe earlier if it goes well,” they said.

However the source close to Truss called the Easter timeline “optimistic”.

A post-Brexit UK-Australia free trade deal will increase the £16bn in trade done annually between the two countries and would be the 65th trade deal signed by Truss since Brexit.

Sixty-three of these have been rollover deals that are on the same trade terms the UK had when in the EU.

Sophia Gaston, director at The British Foreign Policy Group, said a UK-Australia deal would “reinvigorate the relationship” and be “the first step in a wider project to cement ties between the two nations”.

“There are certainly opportunities to increase the volume and ease of food and wine exports between Australia and the UK, including the reduction of tariff barriers,” she said.

“Opening up these markets will be crucial for both countries, as the UK seeks to diversify outside the EU and Australia seeks to diversify from an increasingly competitive China.”

A Department of International Trade spokesperson said: “We are committed to securing ambitious free trade deals with Australia and New Zealand as soon as possible, harnessing the opportunity to negotiate high-quality and innovative trade agreements with like-minded, liberal trading nations.”