Australia-EU free trade negotiations to push innovation initiatives

The agreement would push 'rules and initiatives' for tech startups, innovation, and the digital economy, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has announced kicking off negotiations for a free trade agreement with the European Union, pushing regulations and initiatives for innovation and tech startups.

In a joint statement, Turnbull and Trade Minister Steven Ciobo said the agreement will give Australian businesses preferential access to the EU, opening up a market with 500 million consumers and $17.3 trillion in GDP.

"We are seeking an ambitious and comprehensive trade agreement to drive Australian exports, economic growth, and create new Australian jobs," Ciobo and Turnbull said on Monday afternoon.

"We will look to lock in access and create new commercially meaningful opportunities for Australian services exporters, with a focus on education, financial, and professional services.

"We will also explore rules and initiatives to support the digital economy, innovation, and increase opportunities for high-technology startups."

Negotiations between Australia and the EU will kick off early next month in Brussels, Turnbull and Ciobo confirmed.

Australia similarly signed a free trade agreement earlier this year with 11 Pacific Rim nations, with the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP 11 signed by Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Brunei, and Chile. It will take effect in Australia by the end of 2018.

South Korea, Thailand, and Indonesia have shown "strong interest" in joining the TPP, Turnbull said previously, as well as Colombia.

The United Kingdom, which will complete Brexit next year, could also potentially join the TPP according to Turnbull, who said the nation has shown "real interest" in joining the free trade deal, and is partaking in preliminary discussions on doing so.

"The UK has shown real interest in it. Obviously, they'll have to leave the European Union first, but we've had very preliminary discussions, I guess would be the best way of describing it. The UK has shown real interest, and you can see the attraction of it to the UK, because if they were to join the TPP, they'd be entering into a high-quality trade agreement with 11 other countries in one hit," Turnbull told media in London back in April.

"Now of course, it'd have to be negotiated with all those 11 other countries including Australia. Nonetheless, it's impressive, I think, to see the strong interest shown by the UK."

However, US President Donald Trump earlier this year rejected the trade deal via a tweet.

"While Japan and South Korea would like us to go back into TPP, I don't like the deal for the United States," Trump tweeted.

"Too many contingencies and no way to get out if it doesn't work. Bilateral deals are far more efficient, profitable and better for OUR workers. Look how bad WTO is to U.S."

The original TPP was signed in February 2016 by the US, but was then dumped by Trump on his first week in office in favour of bilateral trade deals that promote his "America first" protectionist policy, despite warnings that he risked "abdicating" trade leadership in the Asia-Pacific region to China.

While Turnbull had also previously suggested that the TPP could be opened up to China, the Chinese government expressed unwillingness to join, instead favouring the RCEP, which is being negotiated between China, Australia, India, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Thailand.

The New Zealand government in February published the content of the TPP 11 deal, with the intellectual property chapter outlining safe harbour and fair use regimes, as well as pushing civil and criminal penalties for piracy.

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