Australia-UK free trade agreement: Visas on the table under negotiations to begin this month

It was a great blow when Britain entered the Common Market. Australian goods had access to British buyers substantially limited and moving from one of the countries to the other was hampered.  We seem likely to unwind that now that Britain is leaving the EU

There has been a continual stream of British migration to Australia ever since 1788, with the result that British customs have been continually refreshed in Australia.  With over a million British-born people living in Australia, there is virtually nothing about Britain that is unfamilar in Australia.

So for traditional but also continually refreshed reasons, Australia is very much like just another of the British regions that has somehow been moved to the other side of the word.  

The British regions all have their distinctive identity, culture and version of English and that is also true of Australia.  The difference between Australia and the Home Counties is in fact slighter than the difference betreen the Home counties and some thorougly English regions.  An Australian accent is, for instance, better understood in the Home Counties than a Geordie accent is

So there is every reason to open up movement between Britain and Australia

Greater opportunities for business visas and the potential to “streamline and extend” working holiday visas for young people are on the table as part of a free-trade agreement (FTA) between Britain and Australia.

Speaking at an Australian British Chamber of Commerce webinar on Monday, Australian Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister Simon Birmingham said despite high levels of mobility between the UK and Australia there is room for improvement.

“[We] ought to provide for mutual recognition of qualifications and standards to make it easier for skilled professionals to work in each others countries,” he said.

“We of course have a rich history of young people from each country undertaking an almost rite of passage of living, working, travelling around each others countries. “Perhaps we can streamline and extend that,” he said, so the “terms of that are as flexible as they can be.”

While Mr Birmingham said the trade deal is “not an open borders arrangement” there is a need to facilitate movement of people along with the improved investment flows and mutual recognition of qualifications the free trade deal hopes to provide.

He said “never before” has a trade deal been seen from an Australian perspective as one that could be “so easy and yet so fruitful.” “I know we go into this with similar ambitions … this is an agreement we should be able to strike quickly and easily.” “I certainly hope that we can work though faster than any others.”

An FTA between the two nations has been years in the planning and talks will officially kick off online on June 29. The UK is also seeking an FTA with New Zealand while Australia is pursuing one with the European Union (EU).

Britain officially left the EU on 31 January 2020 allowing it the ability to pursue independent trade deals, however it is still negotiating its future relationship with the bloc that will come into effect on 1 January 2021 after a year's transition period.

UK Secretary of State for International Trade Liz Truss said Australia is a “key partner and ally” for the UK in is pursuit of becoming a global trading hub.

“When we entered the EU some people felt like we’d slightly lost touch with some of our old friends,” she said, adding that the two countries “speak with a similar voice on the world stage about the importance of free trade.”

The deal is set to benefit food and drink producers in both countries, as well as reducing the regulatory burden of setting up overseas for small businesses.

The UK automotive industry hopes to benefit from selling tariff-free cars to Australia, while Australian agricultural producers are set to benefit from not being locked out of trade barriers erected by the EU.

Digital services are also expected to play a key role in the deal, and the UK is hoping an FTA with New Zealand and Australia will pave the way for it to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) – an FTA involving 11 Asia Pacific states.

Ms Truss said there was “quite a lot of booze flowing between the UK and Australia” in terms of Aussie wine and British whisky and gin.

“I see this as being an exemplar deal where two like-minded trading nations can show the world what free trade can look like,” she said. “There is no stronger relationship than with Australia.”

“[Australian Prime Minister] Scott Morrison and [UK Prime Minister] Boris Johnson see eye-to-eye. We see this an opportunity to make closer friends with one of our best friends in the world.”

As for when international business travel might be back on the agenda, Ms Truss said it was “one of the key elements” the country was looking at as it emerges from lockdown.

Already Spain has announced British travellers will not have to quarantine there, with a number of deals with other European countries such as Portugal and France expected to follow.

Mr Birmingham said while travel restrictions are “tough for a nation like Australia … it’s also a reality that we are stuck with those restrictions for some time to come.”

He said the country is first looking at opening up to New Zealand and then potentially opening “business lanes” in “carefully calibrated ways” that could facilitate investment flows between the two countries.


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