UK begins talks with Australia and New Zealand on free trade deal for post-Brexit era

“We’ve been preparing for this deal since the UK decided to leave the EU and welcome their agreement to commence negotiations,” Birmingham said in a statement issued on Wednesday. Birmingham said Australia and the UK hoped to conclude the deal “as quickly as possible” – possibly by the end of this year, although he conceded that may be an ambitious timeframe. “As both our nations begin to shift our focus towards the economic recovery from Covid-19, a UK-Australia FTA will help to expand choices and export opportunities and secure stronger supply chains to better withstand future shocks,” Birmingham said. New Zealand and Britain had “a close relationship, including strong trade and economic ties, common values and traditions and a shared history”, he said. Agriculture will be a hotly contested issue; New Zealand lost its privileged access to the British markets in 1973 when the UK joined the European Economic Community, the precursor to the EU, a slight still felt by some in the primary industries. “We share an ambition to liberalise tariffs as much as possible, [including] on agricultural goods,” said Laura Clarke, the British high commissioner to New Zealand. Birmingham described the EU as “a massive high income market of almost 450 million people and as a bloc it’s already Australia’s third-largest trading partner and our third largest source of foreign investment”.