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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Daniel Hurst

‘Great migrant nation’: bid to protect Australian prosecco and feta from EU bans

Australian farmers ‘feel very attached’ to products such as feta cheese, Don Farrell has told the EU as he bids to strike afree trade deal.
Australian farmers ‘feel very attached’ to products such as feta cheese, Don Farrell has told the EU as he bids to strike a free trade deal. Photograph: David Mariuz/AAP

The trade minister, Don Farrell, has asked his European counterparts to recognise Australia as a “great migrant nation” and not force its producers to stop using terms like prosecco and feta.

In an interview from Berlin, Farrell said he was hopeful of clinching a free trade agreement with the European Union early in the new year because he had received an “extremely positive response in all of the countries we visited”.

But Farrell – who also visited Paris and Brussels over the past fortnight – said Australia was not budging on a key sticking point: the EU’s desire to protect product names linked to specific geographic regions.

“Everywhere I’ve gone I’ve made it clear that these are important issues for Australian producers,” he told Guardian Australia.

Farrell cited figures that one in four Australians were born overseas, and one in two had a parent born overseas.

“Many of the migrants who came to Australia, of course, came from places like Greece and Italy. They brought their culture with them; they also brought their food,” he said.

“They feel very attached to those products and one of my jobs has been to explain to the Europeans just how strongly our communities - our European communities - feel about connection with those products.”

Farrell said Australia did not believe geographical indicators should be part of the EU FTA. “We haven’t shifted our position on that,” he said.

Asked whether a deal was possible without Australia giving ground on product names, Farrell said it was still a “hypothetical” and he would have “a better idea” after the next round of formal negotiations in February.

Farrell said he had also used his meetings in Europe to make the case for investment in Australian critical minerals, such as those needed to produce batteries.

“The Europeans understand that we’re going to be a terrific source of those critical minerals that are going to decarbonise their economies – and that’s going to be a very important feature of any free trade agreement,” he said.

“We want to value-add the products and we think we can use and be assisted by European investment and technology to get those critical minerals out of the ground.”

The EU is already Australia’s third-largest trading partner, but Australian negotiators are pushing for greater market access for agricultural exports. Farrell has invited the European commissioner for trade, Valdis Dombrovskis, to visit Australia.

EU talks were postponed when the then-Morrison government’s cancellation of the French submarine contract caused a diplomatic rupture with France.

Another long-running sticking point was the former government’s refusal to commit to more ambitious climate policies, because the EU wants to include a strong commitment to the Paris agreement in the FTA.

Farrell said he had detected, in Europe, “an audible sigh of relief that the government has changed and that we’re now on the same footing as them on important issues, but particularly climate change, which has been raised everywhere I go”.

The chair of the European parliament’s environment committee, Pascal Canfin, confirmed that an Australian FTA would be a “no go” without including strong climate commitments.

Canfin said the EU’s FTA with New Zealand included a process to suspend tariff reductions if one side started undermining the Paris agreement.

“It’s sort of a nuclear weapon that you are very reluctant to use,” Canfin told Guardian Australia.

“I don’t see how we could, in the European parliament, find a majority to ratify any deal with Australia without such a clause on climate, exactly as we had on New Zealand.”

Canfin hailed the EU’s move this week to introduce a world-leading “green tariff” on imports of products made with high emissions, including iron and steel, cement, fertilisers and aluminium.

The former Morrison government had denounced the idea as a “new form of protectionism”, but Canfin said it would ensure a level playing field at a time when Europe was using carbon pricing to drive deeper reductions in emissions.

He said without the EU’s carbon border adjustment scheme, “you shoot yourself in the foot” with a huge incentive to send jobs offshore.

Canfin said the scheme was fair because it would ensure those producing goods in the EU and those importing them from elsewhere would pay the same carbon price.

But he said the charges would not apply for the first few years as part of the phase-in period. While the EU was the first in the world to adopt such a measure, Canfin predicted others would follow suit.

Farrell said the Australian government was still gathering information about the EU’s plans and he would “much prefer to have a closer look at what’s been proposed” before stating a definitive position.

He was due to return to Australia on Friday.

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