Back-of-the-Queue Britain Gets Free Trade Embrace From Australia

Updated on
  • Turnbull seeks to clinch early post-Brexit FTA with U.K.
  • Obama has said a deal with Britain is not a top priority

Theresa May and Malcolm Turnbull during a bilateral meeting in Hangzhou on Sept. 5.

Photographer: Aly Song/Pool via EPA

Britain may be at the back of the queue for a post-Brexit trade deal with the U.S. With Australia, at least, it’s at the front.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said Monday his government is keen to clinch an accord with the U.K as soon as it leaves the European Union. Australia is even offering to help its former colonial master navigate the complex world of trade negotiations.

“Britain has an enormous amount of work to do to put in place new free trade agreements, to replace, in their own system, all of that European legislation,” Turnbull told reporters at the Group of 20 summit in Hangzhou, China, following talks with Prime Minister Theresa May. “They don’t have any trade negotiators. They haven’t had to negotiate a trade agreement for over 40 years because they have been part of the European system.”

Turnbull’s enthusiasm contrasts with President Barack Obama, who is standing by his April warning that the U.K. would be at the “back of the queue” if it voted to leave the E.U. Speaking alongside May ahead of the G-20 summit, Obama said the U.S. is focused instead on its trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic deals.

The U.K. is Australia’s leading trade partner in the European Union, with two-way trade worth around A$21.1 billion ($16 billion) in 2014-15. Australia has a strong record in trade negotiations, clinching deals with South Korea, Japan and China since 2013.

Australia’s Trade Minister Steven Ciobo will travel to London this week to explore a potential FTA, and will also push for an accord in Brussels.

May is “very grateful of the assistance that we are providing both at a legislative level and the sense of providing, making available our resources,” Turnbull said. Australia is trying to “deal with the British early to ensure we are able to negotiate a very strong, very open free trade agreement” once the country leaves the E.U.

Speaking at the top of her meeting Monday with Turnbull, May said Brexit would be a complex and challenging process, “but I’m very clear that it doesn’t mean that we are going to be inward-looking.”

“In fact, we want to be even more outward-looking around the whole of the world,” she said. “And obviously, Australia, with our longstanding ties and our close relationship, will be one of the first countries we’ll be looking to."

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— With assistance by Robert Hutton

(Updates with May comments in eighth paragraph.)
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