The third round of negotiations on the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement (AU-UK FTA) was held virtually from 23 November to 4 December. We continued to make progress towards our objective of a bilateral agreement that delivers new and improved opportunities for our exporters and investors. This is more important than ever as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Improved access to the UK market is part of our strategy to give Australian exporters more options around the world. The Australian delegation was led by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and included government representatives from:
- The Attorney-General’s Department
- Australian Border Force
- Australian Competition and Consumer Commission
- Australian Prudential Regulation Authority
- Australian Space Agency
- Australian Tax Office
- Civil Aviation Safety Authority
- Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment;
- Department of Education, Skills and Employment
- Department of Finance
- Department of Home Affairs
- Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources
- Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications
- Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet
- Digital Transformation Agency
- IP Australia
- National Skills Commission
- The Treasury
- Workplace Gender Equality Agency
Around 50 sessions were held during the two weeks of the round, covering trade in goods, services and investment, digital trade, legal and institutional, and other issues typically covered in a modern and comprehensive FTA, such as intellectual property, government procurement and SMEs.
We continued to make substantive progress through text-based discussions on many issues, in a positive atmosphere. We also had a first discussion of initial market access offers for trade in goods. The fourth round of negotiations is expected to take place in late February2021. Negotiators will continue to work intersessionally to maintain momentum.
The Australian and UK Chief Negotiators hosted a virtual joint stakeholder briefing following the round, attended by over 130 stakeholders from peak bodies, business, industry groups, and civil society. Chief Negotiators provided an update on the progress of negotiations and responded to questions from stakeholders on issues across the FTA. The discussions covered a broad range of issues, including services and investment, agriculture, digital trade, and intellectual property.
Trade in Goods
Australia and the UK continued to progress consideration of the Trade in Goods Chapter. We also discussed initial market access offers for goods, which were exchanged before the round. Market access is a critical component and measure of a free trade agreement and both sides welcomed the beginning of these discussions.
On Rules of Origin, Australia and the UK engaged in further detail on origin procedures. Good progress was made on developing a common negotiating text. The first discussion of product specific rules saw excellent progress, with just under half of all lines provisionally agreed.
On the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) and Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) chapters, Australia continues to seek views from Australian stakeholders on possible sectoral outcomes on TBT. These could include promotion of common standards and harmonisation of requirements for specific products.
Services and Investment
Text negotiations spanned chapters for Cross-Border Trade in Services, Professional Services, Temporary Entry for Business Persons, Financial Services and Telecommunications Services. Australia and the UK are like-minded in wanting to see ambitious outcomes in these areas. The UK also presented proposals on international maritime transport services and express delivery services.
On Investment, in-depth discussions were held on text to further liberalise the two-way investment environment and protect investments, consistent with broader public policy objectives.
Australia and the UK are like-minded in their ambition to use the opportunity of the FTA negotiations to strengthen cooperation in areas that complement the FTA. These include regulatory cooperation in the financial services sector and Australia’s mobility proposals, including on youth mobility.
Australia and the UK commenced text-based discussions on patents and copyright. This helped both Parties to understand similarities and differences between our respective systems. We also held a session on geographical indications (GIs) where the UK outlined its post-Brexit GIs system and Australia outlined its interests in transparency and due process.
Australia and the UK are particularly focussed on using the FTA to ensure our rules and standards are fit for purpose in relation to digital trade. To that end, there was an in-depth exchange on digital trade provisions including personal information protection, online consumer protection and open government data. We also discussed cooperation on data innovation, artificial intelligence, digital standards, digital identities and cybersecurity.
Other FTA Issues
Other FTA issues, such as Competition, Environment, Government Procurement, Labour, Regulatory Coherence, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) and State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), are central to the efficient, effective and whole-of-economy/cross-cutting application of the FTA. Both sides discussed the structure and content of the chapters, and exchanged information on our respective systems and past FTA approaches.
Legal and Institutional issues
There was good progress on the legal, institutional and cross-cutting provisions. This includes working towards the objective of an efficient and transparent dispute settlement mechanism, robust transparency and anti-corruption provisions and an effective and streamlined process for the administration of the agreement.
We held further useful discussions on a range of cross-cutting issues, including strengthening cooperation on critical minerals, space, sustainable trade and innovation, and agreed to continue to pursue complementary economic initiatives alongside the FTA.