SYDNEY — EU trade chief Cecilia Malmström acknowledged Monday there would be “difficult moments” in trade talks with Australia, but predicted that a successful accord would be a counterblast to U.S. President Donald Trumps protectionism.
At a time when Trump has backed away from free-trade deals and moved to impose tariffs on allies including the EU, Malmström said the deal would send a message to America.
The EU and Australia, “who have always been defenders of international trade,” are sending “a very hands-on statement” that “together with other allies we are ready to stand up, to develop, to reform the system, and also to send the message that trade is a good thing,” Malmström said.
“We will find a way,” she told journalists at a press conference.
The current climate is “very dangerous to global growth,” the commissioner added during a press conference in Canberra with Australias Trade Minister Steven Ciobo and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. “It is preoccupying. Thats why those of us who do believe in free trade must stick together.”
Malmström, who traveled to Australia to officially launch the negotiations, acknowledged that geographical indications (GIs) would likely be the toughest element of the talks.
“This will probably be the chapter thats the most difficult,” Malmström said of GIs. “We are very well prepared for this. This is probably where we will start.”
Ciobo said Canberra is “aspirational” that the deal would give Australia access to the EUs agricultural market, particularly for premium produce.
Pressed on whether Brussels is prepared to offer Australia access to agriculture, Malmström said: “We have gone through a very ambitious reform agenda on the CAP … we are aware of the interests that Australia has. Im sure well find a way.”
Another point of contention is likely to be the period of time that non-patent-holding generics producers are prevented from manufacturing biologic drugs — the so-called data exclusivity period. Australia has previously fought to ensure the period is five years.
Asked whether Australia would hold the line on a five-year maximum data exclusivity period, Ciobo said: “Absolutely.”
Malmström responded: “We heard the message from the minister, and well take that with us into negotiations.”
Australian reporters are wary about comments made by Italys new populist government threatening not to ratify the CETA trade deal with Canada. Asked whether Rome would scupper an Australia deal, Malmström said: “We will make best effort to present an agreement that can be ratified,” adding that “Italian exports to Canada have increased by 8 percent” as a result of CETA.
Malmström said teams from the EU and Australia will meet in two weeks in Brussels to start the technical work on their deal.