Australia and the United Kingdom have a long and precious history; it’s been a relationship that has shown resilience and strength, even when Britain turned away from its Commonwealth partner and towards the EU in the 1970s.
Now however, Britain is turning back towards its Antipodean friend and Australia appears to be thrilled at the prospect.
Writing for Briefings for Brexit, the former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, referenced the impact of Britain’s accession to Europe in the 1970s had on Australia. The Prime Minister, who led the world’s 14th largest economy between 1996 and 2007, said that although Australia could turn to the emerging Asian region, the loss of the English market and the distancing between the countries particularly hurt Australia’s farmers:
“The nations of the European Union continued to impose discriminatory trade restrictions on Australia exports, as they did on many other countries.”
The Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Alexander Downer, complemented his former boss’ comments when he recently addressed the Policy Exchange, where he discussed how Australia had to search elsewhere and look beyond the UK when Britain turned towards its geographical neighbours.
But now that the UK has decided to leave the European Union, Australia is willing to forget the pain of the past and reignite the trading and historical bonds with British compatriots.
The UK is Australia’s fifth largest trading partner and the second largest destination for Australian overseas investment. We have commonalities in systems of law and governance, and a shared heritage as members of the Commonwealth. 1.6 million British citizens live in Australia; that is more than the entire European Union combined.
Australia has a strong and consistent commitment both to the multilateral trade agenda and to opening new markets at a bilateral level. With an independent international trade policy, the UK should seek to emulate and exceed this approach.
An ambitious Free Trade Agreement must strive for significant market access opportunities for both sides to each other’s goods and services markets. But we must look beyond traditional agricultural sectors; there is an opportunity to trade of electronics, financial services, telecommunications, digital trade, ecommerce, fintech and data legislation.
We must find an agreement that eases the movement of people between the two countries, as well as putting provisions in place to ensure protection for intellectual property rights.
For too long, the EU has been slow to identify, negotiate and sign FTAs, no more so in the case of Australia. Brexit presents an opportunity for the UK to make up for lost time.
But it is not just the UK who believe that there is something to be gained. The Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and his Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, both of whom visited the UK last month have thrown support behind a free trade agreement and have stressed the opportunities Brexit provides to the Great South Land.
Speaking at the Australia-UK Chamber of Commerce in April, Mr Turnbull said that:
“I believe that whatever the merits of Brexit may be in the UK, that’s a domestic debate here, I think it offers greater opportunities for Australia in the UK than ever.”
Memories of the 1970s seem more distant than ever as Australia has offered to assist the UK with strengthening and boosting ties across the whole of the Asia-Pacific. Mr Turnbull stressed the interest that the UK has shown in joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal that has not been without controversy. The multi-lateral trade deal between approximately 12 countries in the pacific ocean and is looking to deepen economic ties and remove tariffs between the countries. US President Donald Trump had previously labelled the deal as “bad” but has since expressed an interest in the US re-joining. Such a deal is worth almost £10bn and would allow the UK to open itself up to the wider world.
Australia has proved that it is willing to reignite its historical ties with the UK and put aside the feelings of abandonment that were instilled in the 1970s. Our close ally and friend is demonstrating that they are a true friend to the UK; willing not only to foster an agreement between our two countries but aid and assist as we work towards a global Britain.
We must continue to build and develop our relationship with Australia as it will be an essential friend as we move into a brighter future for Britain.