The United Kingdom’s vote to the leave the European Union has led to a tumultuous time for the British political system and the country as a whole. Much remains uncertain, but as the dust settles opportunities will emerge for Australia.
The Hon Alexander Downer AC, Australian High Commissioner
The UK will remain a global power: a Permanent Five member of the United Nations Security Council, a NATO member, a nuclear-weapons state, the world’s fifth-largest economy, an outward-looking nation with immense soft power and a strong diplomatic network. It will be looking for opportunities to demonstrate this global role, particularly with its closest partners, including Australia.
In their first conversation, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull indicated to UK Prime Minister Theresa May Australia’s interest in an Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement. Prime Minister May welcomed this message, saying: “It is very encouraging that one of our closest international partners is already seeking to establish [a free trade deal]. This shows that we can make Brexit work for Britain.” Since then, Prime Ministers have reiterated this ambition and bilateral Trade Ministers have agreed to establish a Trade Working Group to scope out the parameters of a future FTA.
The UK is our seventh largest two-way trading partner, our second largest two-way trading partner in services, the second largest source of foreign investment in Australia, and the second largest destination for Australian foreign investment. An Australia-UK FTA would aim to put in place arrangements to grow two-way trade and investment, including better pathways to enable Australians wanting to live and work in the UK for short-term periods.
Prime Minister May is putting in place the machinery needed to negotiate the UK’s exit from the EU, as well as its new relationship with the EU. The appointment of a Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, David Davis, will complement the role of the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, whose focus will be on the UK’s engagement with the rest of the world. The appointment of a Secretary of State for International Trade, Dr Liam Fox, who will lead on negotiating trade deals beyond the EU, will ensure the entire system is not caught up in the Brexit negotiations.
The Australian High Commission in London will continue to closely monitor developments in the UK and to advocate Australia’s interests. The Australian Trade and Investment Commission (Austrade) in London will also continue its work with Australian firms seeking to export to or establish in the UK, as well as assisting UK firms with their investments into Australia.
The UK’s decision to leave the EU, presents opportunities to strengthen our bilateral relationship with the UK. The Australian Government will ensure it takes those opportunities to further cement the close economic, strategic and cultural relationship between our countries.
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