(Australian Associated Press)
If Brexit ever happens, the United Kingdom expects to get a free trade deal done with Australia within months.
The deal is expected to open the door to Australian agricultural products, which have faced barriers to the UK market for decades due to European Union tariffs.
UK International Trade Secretary Liz Truss met with Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham in Canberra on Wednesday to prepare for the deal.
“We’re confident that these negotiations won’t drag on at all,” Senator Birmingham told reporters.
When asked about a time frame, Ms Truss replied: “I would definitely say months rather than years.”
The UK is committed to leaving the EU through Brexit on October 31, although there are significant problems getting out of the customs union.
Ms Truss said once the UK gets out of the EU it will chase trade deals with Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the US, as well as potentially joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
“This is the first time in 45 years that the UK has an independent trade policy,” she told reporters.
“One of the issues we have faced is increased regulatory harmonisation driven by the European Union which has prevented us from being able to strike these deals and be able to work with other partners around the world.”
Senator Birmingham said a deal with the UK would open up options for Australian farmers.
“It is no secret that as part of the EU market, access in terms of agricultural products has been limited,” he said.
“We stand absolutely ready to work with the UK as soon as they are ready to do so, as quickly as they are able to do so to pursue a free trade agreement.”
The UK is Australia’s eighth-largest two-way trade partner. Ms Truss also flagged potential changes to visas between the two countries.
“Australians want to come and live and work in Britain and Brits want to come and live and work in Australia,” she said.
“It’s certainly something we’ll be looking at as part of our negotiations.”
Senator Birmingham said free trade deals sealed over the past six years had lifted exports, created jobs, and buoyed Australia’s economy during uncertain times.
With less than seven weeks until Britain is due to leave the EU, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has yet to reach an agreement with Brussels on how to manage the separation between the world’s fifth-largest economy and its biggest trading partner.
He is hoping a Brexit deal can be clinched at an EU summit on October 17-18, but in any case has promised to take the nation out of the bloc on October 31, deal or no deal.