Brexit will see Australian ag re-think UK’s trade value

Brexit will see Australian ag re-think UK’s trade value


Business
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While half of Britain is eagerly trying to break free of the European Union (EU), Australia is trying to build much stronger trade ties with the valuable European market.

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Australia has maintained relatively solid trade connections with Britain because it gives our exporters an entry point into the world's second biggest economy - Europe. But that may not be so important if the UK leaves the European Union and Australia signs a free trade deal with the EU.

Australia has maintained relatively solid trade connections with Britain because it gives our exporters an entry point into the world's second biggest economy - Europe. But that may not be so important if the UK leaves the European Union and Australia signs a free trade deal with the EU.

While half of Britain is eagerly trying to break free of the European Union (EU), Australia is trying to build much stronger trade ties with the valuable European market.

The European Union’s $25 trillion annual gross domestic product makes it effectively the second largest economy in the world after the US.

At the moment Australia is actually first in line for a free trade agreement with the EU and its 500 million consumers.  

“Importantly, negotiations on that potential development have already commenced,” said commercial lawyer and EU specialist, John Kettle.

Mr Kettle, who heads international practice at Queensland-based legal firm McCullough Robertson, warned a vote by Britain to leave the EU would force Australian businesses to re-think the advantages of their current UK relationships.

Australia sells about $8.5 billion in goods to Britain every year, and imports about $12.6b.

However, despite its global economic strength, the 28-member EU, including Britain, is currently only our sixth biggest market for farm sector exports.

It is worth about $2.6b a year or 6.5 per cent of our total export sales - about twice as valuable as New Zealand at 3.5pc.

One key reason Australia and Britain have continued to maintain relatively solid trade connections since the UK joined the Europe’s Common Market in 1973 is the foothold it has given our exporters in the bigger European marketplace.

Mr Kettle noted most Australian businesses engaging with the EU based their EU operations in the English-speaking UK through subsidiaries or joint ventures or via trading relationships with UK businesses.

“A UK subsidiary or a connection with a British business makes that part of your business European,” he said.

“If a Brexit goes ahead a cost benefit analysis will need to be done to examine the practical and economic effects for non-EU businesses, particularly to see whether it makes sense for companies to base alternative or additional operations elsewhere in the EU itself.”

While any transition out of the EU by Britain would take some time, he said all existing relationships in the UK would need to be reviewed, particularly if better agricultural and related trade relationships were soon to be struck with Europe.

Mr Kettle, a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin and Oxford University, has practiced corporate, commercial, competition and European Union law for 20 years, invariably crossing swords with the European Commission and courts.

He said at the moment most non-agricultural trade in goods and services to the EU actually faced few material trade barriers and tariffs.

Agriculture, however, has been a notable exception, with Australian exporters and their customers restricted by quotas, tariffs and a host of non-tariff impediments which may be dismantled if an EU free trade deal was in place.

But a new post-EU Britain, with potentially lower business taxes and costs, may also offer fresh trade opportunities for Australia.

“Boris Johnson and others within the Brexit campaign are on record as calling for a greater emphasis on Commonwealth trade in the event of Brexit,” Mr Kettle said.  

“Therefore, if it occurs, expect an increased focus on Commonwealth trade which has been basically ignored since the UK joined the EU.

“This may also provide new opportunities for Australian businesses across Commonwealth but particularly in the UK market itself.  

“Likewise, there may be a greater allocation of UK investment into Australia, also an influx of British goods and services directed towards the Australian market.”

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