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Connect : What does it take to build an exemplar Free Trade Agreement?

The UK Minister for Investment, Lord Gerry Grimstone of Boscobel Kt, joined His Excellency The Honourable George Brandis QC to provide Advance.org partners and guests with a rare glimpse into the aspirations and context for the negotiation of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the UK and Australia.

The Chair of Advance.org, Yasmin Allen, welcomed Lord Grimstone, noting the strong foundation of UK-Australian trade ties despite the dramatic outlook for the economies of both Australia and the UK, in the midst of the Covid19 pandemic.

With a career spanning the private and public sectors, including a period in Hong Kong with oversight of a bank in Australia, Lord Grimstone is uniquely positioned to drive an ambitious agenda for the UK-Australia FTA. Combining his deep knowledge of government priorities, investor perspectives and the complementarities of the Australian and UK economies, he made a compelling case for a comprehensive partnership that could serve as an exemplar for other FTAs.

Lord Grimstone set the scene with the international economy reverberating from the seismic shockwaves unleashed by the Covid19 crisis, causing many decision-makers to reassess the nature of the global economic landscape. While accepting this crisis will lead nations to reconfigure and recapitalise their economies to kickstart growth, the rise of protectionism is a perverse and concerning outcome which threatens to fragment the global trading system. 

The UK’s independent trade policy

Observing that the surest way to kickstart economies is by promoting global trade and investment, he emphasised the importance of like-minded nations,  like Australia and the UK upholding established norms such as the Freedom of the Seas doctrine, and supporting key international institutions such as the World Trade Organisation.

As a champion of free trade, the UK seeks to sit at the centre of a network of FTAs that cover 80% of UK trade within the next three years. While in the transition period leading to Brexit (until 31 December 2020), the UK is currently negotiating FTAs with Australia, New Zealand and the United States, and a new economic relationship with the EU.

Within this busy schedule, the comprehensive FTA with Australia is a priority for the UK’s independent trade policy. It is hoped that this will set an ambitious bench-mark for future UK trade agreements and signal to the rest of the world what can be achieved by two advanced, liberal, free-trade orientated economies. 

The first round of negotiations between Australia and the UK reinforced a shared desire to be ambitious around services, digital trade and opportunities for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Lord Grimstone welcomed calls from roundtable participants for the FTA to go beyond standard tariff discussions, to address non-tariff barriers to trade, and unlock opportunities such as through collaboration against illegal trade.

The opportunities for the FTA to unlock new markets for Australian agriculture, and to enable the movement of talent through more accessible work visas were also raised by the roundtable participants as was a desire to see this negotiation completed in a timely manner.. 

Beyond the negotiations

Lord Grimstone reflected on other key issues for the UK economy, including:

  • Accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP – one of the world’s largest free trade areas, collectively representing 13% of global GDP in 2018) as a key part of the UK trade negotiations programme and an economic strategy and tilt towards the Asia-Pacific. 
  • Addressing the decline in foreign direct investment (FDI) flows in the post-COVID landscape (with a sustained global FDI fall of 40% estimated until 2021). The UK is particularly reliant upon FDI, equivalent to 73% of UK GDP (relative to an average of 46% for OECD countries). 
  • Rolling out freeports to “level up” UK regions with a focus on 10-11 locations
  • Introduction of a new immigration regime from Jan 1, with a points-based system for skilled workers 

The closing remarks for this informative and inspiring discussion were provided by His Excellency The Hon. George Brandis QC, Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. With his trademark clarity and focus, the High Commissioner reflected on the opportunities presented by unlocking the opportunity across the two economies, including in agriculture and reiterated Australia’s support for the UK’s accession to the CPTPP, the value of the UK as a positive geostrategic influence. He spoke of his desire to see our partnership smooth the path for more young Britons and Australians to gain a practical experience of living and working in both countries and for enhanced cultural links through the UK/Australia Season 2021-22.


Did you know?

  1. More British citizens live and work in Australia than in all the nations of the EU combined > More
  2. The UK is Australia’s seventh-largest trading partner with two-way goods and services trade valued at $30.3 billion in 2018-19 > More
  3. The UK is currently Australia’s third-largest services trading partner and second largest overseas investor > More
  4. The UK remains the country most trusted to act responsibly in the world, according to the 2020 Lowy Poll of Australians.

Further information

  • Free Trade Agreement between Australia and the United Kingdom > More
  • The relationship between Australia and the UK through the arts, creative industries, and higher education via the UK/Australia Season 2020/2021 > More

Feedback

We thank our global Australian leaders for joining us for this very special conversation and our Advance.org Ambassador in the United Kingdom, the Hon. Jeannie Lopes for her continued support of our work.

“Two impressive speakers on a very interesting topic, leading to some great questions”


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