Thursday, October 21, 2021

Australia-EU trade talks delayed amid submarine dispute

BRUSSELS (WNN) – A round of free trade talks between the European Union and Australia has been postponed in the wake of controversy over Canberra’s decision to scrap a multi-billion-euro French submarine deal, according to an EU official .

Miriam García Ferrer, the EU Commission spokesman in charge of trade, confirmed the decision to The Associated Press on Friday, but did not give a specific reason for the postponement.

The European Union began negotiations for a trade deal with Australia in 2018. The 12th round of talks was to be held later this month via videoconferencing.

Australia in 2016 signed a 90 billion Australian dollar ($66 billion) deal with the French-majority state-owned Naval Group to build 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines. But Prime Minister Scott Morrison last month scrapped the deal as part of an alliance with the United States and Britain that would deliver an Australian fleet of at least eight nuclear-powered submarines.

The move angered not only France, but also criticism from European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

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France has accused the United States and Australia of betrayal by secretly negotiating a canceled contract and a replacement tripartite alliance. France briefly withdrew its ambassador from Washington in protest; There is no information on when the French ambassador may return to Australia.

The 27-nation EU represented Australia’s third-largest trading partner in 2020, after China and Japan, ahead of the United States, according to EU data.

Following the last round of talks in June, the EU said the discussions took place “in a good and constructive atmosphere and showed a shared commitment to negotiate an ambitious and comprehensive agreement.”

An EU official directly aware of the matter said the submarine dispute played a role in the decision to delay the talks but stressed it was not ready to settle in either case. The person spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

The official said the postponement does not mean the end of talks and both sides will continue to work towards reaching an agreement.

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