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Aust UK's relationship 'yesteryear': Ciobo

Press AssociationPress Association 8/09/2016 By Andrew Woodcock

Federal trade minister Steven Ciobo says Australia's historical tie with the UK is "a relationship of yesteryear", as he assured the European Parliament that discussions on a free trade agreement with the EU were "much more advanced" than those with Britain.

Mr Ciobo's comments came days after Malcolm Turnbull promised an "early ... very strong, very open" FTA with the UK in talks with Prime Minister Theresa May at last weekend's G20 summit in China.

Mr Turnbull's offer was a high point of the summit for Mrs May, but Mr Ciobo later poured cold water on the prospect of a swift deal.

Visiting London earlier this week, the trade minister agreed the establishment of an official-level working group with the UK's International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, but warned that formal negotiations could not begin until the UK had finally left the EU and were unlikely to be completed in less than two and a half years.

Addressing the European Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs in Brussels, Mr Ciobo said discussions with the EU were "much more advanced and much more mature" and should move to formal negotiations in the first half of next year.

"I see the European Union FTA as - I would hope - certainly commencing formal negotiations well and truly prior to anything that might happen with the UK," he told MEPs.

"The UK and Australia of course do have a historical relationship, but it's in many respects a relationship of yesteryear. What we look at in terms of our relationship with the UK now from a trade perspective, as they go about exiting the EU, is to be mindful of the fact that they are exiting."

Australia was not "in a position to negotiate a UK-Australia agreement until such time as that exit occurs", said Mr Ciobo.

"Liam Fox himself acknowledged that same point. At a minimum I would have thought that is two and half a years away."

"Yes there will be an officials working group, to look at scoping some of these things, but to parallel that scoping exercise with the much more formal scoping exercise that the EU and Australia have undertaken I think would be a mistake. This is a much more advanced discussion that we've been having with the EU."

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