Britain and Australia have discussed negotiating a post-Brexit trade agreement, the two countries’ leaders said today at the G20 summit in China, as Britain seeks to secure its economic ties before quitting the EU.
“Britain’s made a very momentous and historic choice to leave the European Union,” Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said as he met his new British counterpart Theresa May by Hangzhou’s picturesque West Lake.
“We have already been engaged in discussions with you about what the free trade agreements may look like after that.”
In the wake of its vote to leave the European Union, Britain must renegotiate its access to the markets of the rest of the world, as well as those of the grouping it is leaving.
It is a huge task for the world’s fifth-biggest economy. Australia is “determined” to provide its ally with support in negotiating new deals with other countries, Turnbull added.
Britain maintains a close relationship with its resource-rich former colony, and May said she was grateful for Turnbull’s offer of trade discussions.
Australia would be “one of the first countries we will be looking to”, she said, in what would be among the first such negotiations following the Brexit vote.
But EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker has said he opposes trade talks between Britain and other economies while it remains part of the European Union.
“I don’t like the idea that member states of the EU, including those who are still a member state of the European Union, are negotiating free trade agreements,” he said yesterday.
Such discussions were an “exclusive matter” for the European Union on behalf of its members and “we are sticking to it”, he told reporters.
According to EU officials, formal negotiations with Brussels itself cannot start until London triggers Article 50, the treaty provision governing its departure from the grouping.
Australia would seek to help Britain conduct trade talks, Turnbull said yesterday, as London has not had to hammer out its own deals since joining the EU and lacks the large number of experienced negotiators needed to reach such agreements.
US President Barack Obama said at a joint briefing yesterday with May that they had discussed trade and both countries aim to “ensure that we don’t see adverse effects” in their commercial ties.
It was “already a very strong and robust economic relationship that can become even stronger in the future”, he said.
May said that following Brexit “we will be looking to establish new trading relationships around the globe”.