Australia May Seek Better Deal on Visas From Post-Brexit Britain

  • High Commissioner Alexander Downer comments in interview
  • Australia only interested in ‘high-quality’ trade accord

Australia might demand a “better deal” on visas as part of any post-Brexit trade pact with Britain, according to the country’s top envoy to the U.K.

“We might throw into the mix -- and this might be a little contentious -- the fact that we want a better deal on visas,” High Commissioner Alexander Downer said in an interview in which he said Australia would only be interested in a “high-quality” trade accord once the U.K. leaves the European Union.

Prime Minister Theresa May is eyeing trade deals around the world as she prepares to trigger two years of Brexit talks by the end of March. Britain can’t negotiate new accords until it has completed its divorce from the EU, but it has already held preliminary discussions with countries including Australia, New Zealand and India, as well as Donald Trump’s new U.S. administration.

Downer, a former Australian foreign minister, said he is confident a free-trade agreement eliminating tariffs and quotas can be struck quickly given the similar legal systems, values and language. He has previously suggested a time frame of as little eight months.

Britain is up to the task of negotiating a deal, despite its lack of experience since joining the EU more than 40 years ago, said Downer, who spoke from Australia House in London. The Australian government, which has negotiated eight free-trade agreements in 12 years including with the U.S., has been quick to set up a working group on Brexit and provide the U.K. with a scoping paper.

‘Low-Hanging Fruit’

“I’m not sure they can negotiate more than one of these things at a time,” he said. Doing a deal with Australia, New Zealand or Canada “would be what you might call low-hanging fruit -- easy to pick.”

The U.K. is Australia’s seventh biggest trading partner but that will likely change once the heavy restrictions imposed from the EU, such as a 10 percent tariff on British cars, are removed, he said. Since Australia struck a deal with the U.S. more than 10 years ago, trade between the two countries has increased 70 percent, he added.

“We have invested a lot of time on this issue,” Downer said. “We need to make sure that our interests are protected and more than that we can maximize outcomes to suit Australia.”

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