British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, welcomes Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on the steps of 10 Downing Street ahead of their meeting on June 15, 2021, in London. Photo: AFP / WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto

Britain announced Tuesday a major free trade agreement with Australia as London presses on with efforts to strike new deals with nations since leaving the European Union.

It follows similar UK trade deals reached with Japan and the European Union following London’s divorce with Brussels.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the latest agreement “marks a new dawn in the UK’s relationship with Australia, underpinned by … shared history and common values.”

“This is global Britain at its best – looking outwards and striking deals that deepen our alliances and help ensure every part of the country builds back better from the pandemic,” he added in a statement.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Twitter that the deal is “an important stepping stone” in efforts to join a massive free trade zone in the Indo-Pacific region – the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The UK government added that the deal eliminates tariffs on all British goods “in the first major trade deal negotiated from scratch” since the country left the EU.

A final “agreement in principle” will be published in the coming days, it added.

The UK-Australia trade relationship was worth £13.9 billion (US$19.4 billion) last year and is set to grow under the deal, the statement said.

Swimwear and whisky

The two countries plan to “intensify cooperation on security, climate change and science and tech,” the UK government said.

The deal eliminates tariffs on imported Australian goods such as wine, swimwear and confectionery, it said.

Going the other way, British products including cars, Scotch whisky, biscuits and ceramics will be cheaper to sell into Australia.

It comes after the two nations addressed issues surrounding the farming sector.

British farmers will be protected by a cap on tariff-free imports for 15 years, using tariff rate quotas and other safeguards. 

“We are also supporting agricultural producers to increase their exports overseas, including to new markets in the Indo-Pacific,” the UK said.

Low-hanging fruit

The deal with Australia – Britain’s former colony on the other side of the world – is seen as low-hanging fruit ahead of more difficult free trade talks with the United States and other major economic powers. 

Britain earlier this month announced a free-trade agreement with three European countries not in the EU – major fishing neighbor Norway as well as Iceland and Liechtenstein.

Yet the UK finds itself caught in a dispute with major EU member France over post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland.

Brussels is angered at London’s refusal to implement checks on goods heading into Northern Ireland from England, Scotland and Wales.

The European Union is threatening retaliation if Britain unilaterally extends a grace period for trade in chilled meat, including sausages, next month.

The Northern Ireland Protocol, signed separately from the Brexit trade deal agreed in December, is supposed to see checks on goods heading into the province from mainland Britain.

The arrangement effectively keeps Northern Ireland in the European customs union and single market that the UK left in January, to stop unchecked goods going to the bloc via neighboring EU state Ireland.

AFP