You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

British PM flags closer ties with Aust

AAP logoAAP 4/09/2016 Belinda Merhab

British Prime Minister Theresa May has emerged from a meeting with Malcolm Turnbull insisting Australia will be one of the first in line when her country leaves the European Union.

Talk of a free-trade deal was on the agenda when the pair met on the sidelines of the G20 summit in China on Monday.

It comes as Trade Minister Steve Ciobo heads to London and Brussels this week to pursue separate trade agreements with Britain and the EU.

Ms May insisted the UK's decision to leave the EU didn't mean it would become inward-looking.

"In fact, we're going to be even more outward looking around the whole of the world," she said.

"Obviously Australia with our long standing ties and our close relationship will be one of the first countries we will be looking to."

Australia was already pursuing a free-trade agreement with the EU when Britain voted to exit.

Prime Minister Turnbull said the UK would not be giving notice to leave before the end of the year, with the exit expected to take effect at the end of 2018 or early 2019.

Britain had just a couple of years to do an enormous amount of work putting in place new free-trade agreements, he said.

"They don't have any trade negotiators - they haven't had to negotiate a trade agreement for over 40 years because they've been part of the European system," he told reporters in Hangzhou.

Ms May was grateful for Australia's assistance in providing resources to help, Mr Turnbull said.

"From our point of view, (we're) getting in to deal with the British early, to ensure that we are able to negotiate a very strong, very open free-trade agreement with Britain," he said.

Mr Ciobo says he'll meet with economic ministers in London to discuss a potential agreement once the UK is in a position to negotiate.

He'll then be joined by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in Brussels to address members of the European parliament and build support for a free-trade agreement with the EU.

The EU is Australia's second-largest trading partner and largest source of foreign investment while the UK is the second-largest source of foreign investment at almost $500 billion, he said.

Assistant Trade Minister Keith Pitt said Australia needed to get its foot in the door before Britain left the EU.

The former sugar cane farmer said a deal would be good news for Australia's sugar, dairy and wheat industries.

"We want to be first in the queue," he told ABC radio.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Australia should endeavour to reach a mutually-beneficial agreement if possible.

A Labor government would pursue both agreements with "equal vigour".

Meanwhile, the Greens are calling on the government to make trade negotiations public so potential deals can be scrutinised.

"Despite the government's rhetoric, where they claim that recent trade deals will have nothing but positive effects, the Australian trade deficit has only gotten larger and larger," trade spokesperson Sarah Hanson-Young said.

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon