EU president to call for fast-track Australian, NZ trade deals

Australia and New Zealand’s trade deals with the EU could be fast-tracked under proposed changes to be announced today.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker is ­expected to use his state of the EU speech in Brussels to call for change and disregard the need for the slower individual approval by the EU’s 38 national and regional parliaments.

Last year, a deal between the EU and Canada nearly collapsed when the parliament of the French-speaking Belgian region of Wallonia blocked the deal.

Australia has finished a ­scoping study into an EU-Aus­tralia trade agreement and had hoped to start negotiations by the end of the year.

But the Wallonia example had rattled trade negotiators, with fears it could be repeated.

Trade Minister Steven Ciobo has previously said there would be challenges in negotiating the deal because the EU was a federation.

Australian National Uni­versity associate professor Pierre van der Eng said in July that it could take “a few years” to seal the deal.

Mr Juncker is expected, however, to ask EU governments to allow the European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, to begin free-trade negotiations with Australia and New Zealand as soon as possible, Bloomberg ­reported.

Mr Junker wants the Australian and New Zealand deals to use a new structure that would allow deals to be ratified without the possibility of them being vetoed by regional parliaments.

This would be done by establishing a multilateral investment dispute court to handle disputes between investors and states rather than use the current bilateral investment protection mechanism used in EU FTAs.

Politico Europe reported negotiating proposals for the deals with Australia and New Zealand could then follow within “days” of Mr Juncker’s speech.

Mr Ciobo told The Australian he “welcomed” Mr Juncker’s ­proposal.

“I spoke with the EU commissioner for trade, Cecilia Malm­strom, last week as we work towards the launch of formal ­negotiations before the end of the year. Momentum is building,” he said.

Mr Ciobo said the FTA would be “crucial” because of the size of Australian trade with Europe.

“The EU is Australia’s second largest trading partner and largest source of foreign investment, accounting for nearly a quarter of our foreign direct investment,” he said.

The changes could be contentious in countries such as Germany, where a federal ­election is planned for September 24, and in France.

Australia has also not been in Italy’s good books after placing anti-dumping measures on Italian tinned tomatoes last year.

Source: The Australian

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