International trade secretary Liz Truss is preparing to pile pressure onto her Australian counterpart in a bid to land a free trade deal.
She will meet with Australian trade minister Dan Tehan in face-to-face meetings in London this week to try and make progress on the deal, which has long been expected to be the next signed by the UK post-Brexit.
A source close to Truss told The Telegraph that negotiations had become “glacial” since Tehan moved into the job in December and that Australia needed to show “some serious movement on their side”.
They said: “She plans to sit him down in the Locarno Room [in the Foreign Office] in an uncomfortable chair, so he has to deal with her directly for nine hours.
“He is inexperienced compared to Liz. He needs to show that he can play at this level.”
City A.M. reported earlier this year that trade negotiations with Australia were centred around areas such as telecommunications, business visas and agricultural exports.
UK negotiators are keen for the deal to extend free mobile roaming for Brits travelling to Australia and to open up the country’s market to UK telecommunications companies, while Canberra has been calling for reduced tariffs for products like Australian wine.
Australian negotiators have reportedly been slow to move on key UK asks, particularly on business visas.
The comments coming from the source close to Truss caused a backlash in Australia, with Tehan’s allies defending his decades of diplomatic and trade experience.
Truss has now texted Tehan in a bid to smooth over relations.
A source close to Tehan told the Sydney Morning Herald: “If this was briefed by a member of Truss’s staff, that is very disrespectful.
“It’s also a very bad tactic. It won’t work.”
In a statement this afternoon, Truss said: “I’m looking forward to giving minister Tehan a warm welcome and building on the good progress we have already made.
“We want a gold standard agreement that boosts exports, drives investment, supports jobs, and breaks new ground in modern areas like services and digital trade.
“A deal will strengthen ties with one of our closest friends and a fellow pro-trade democracy, and help pave the way for the UK to join CPTPP, a modern trade group of eleven Pacific nations.”