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Australia up against tough negotiators in food fight

Trade Minister Don Farrell is to travel to Beijing in coming weeks in a bid to ease tensions.

Trade Minister Don Farrell is to travel to Beijing in coming weeks in a bid to ease tensions. Photo: AAP

Australia’s trade minister has revealed the significant challenge of clinching a major deal with the European Union as the parties wrangle over naming rights.

Don Farrell insists Australia is unwilling to give ground over geographic indicators involving locally made produce called prosecco and feta, saying migrant communities have a deep connection to cultural foods.

Senator Farrell also wants to secure better access for Australian agricultural products into Europe.

“We’ve got a job ahead of us, it was never going to be easy to negotiate a free trade agreement with the Europeans,” he told AAP.

“They’re tough negotiators, they believe they hold the upper hand in the relationship.”

Negotiators from both sides have engaged in more than a dozen rounds of discussions.

There are hopes the free trade deal can be sealed at the next round of talks in April as the delegations work to a mid-year deadline.

Australia has not agreed to Europe’s request to scrap its luxury car tax.
But the minister has used Australia’s vast reserves of critical minerals – needed to decarbonise economies and meet climate targets – as another key bargaining chip.

“Everything is in the mix to create a very successful free trade agreement that will benefit both populations,” he said.

Sweden holds the presidency of the European Union, and Senator Farrell met with royals from the Nordic nation this week.

The minister said Australia also had a good relationship with Spain, which is due to take over the presidency around the time negotiations conclude.

European trade talks stalled under the Morrison government after a $90 billion contract for French submarines was dumped and against a backdrop of Australia’s inaction on climate change.

Looking to other crucial markets, Senator Farrell will travel with the prime minister to India next month in a bid to strengthen trade ties, flagging areas where progress must be made.

Australia’s trade agreement with the nation of 1.4 billion people came into effect late last year.

Senator Farrell is also trying to shake $20 billion worth of Chinese sanctions on Australian exports.

The minister said there were positive signs but the diplomatic dispute did not flare overnight and would not be solved immediately.

“There’s anecdotal evidence that we’ve been told to be ready for orders of wine,” he said.

“The Chinese minister did tell me that the freeze is over and we’re entering a warm spring.”

The trade minister said some Australian products blacklisted by China, such as barley, had more success in finding other markets, due to large grain producers Ukraine and Canada being impacted by war and drought.

But that’s not the same for wine and lobster producers.

Asked if Australia was considering building trade and investment links with Ukraine, Senator Farrell pointed to the removal of tariffs and military aid to the war-torn nation.

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