Australian commissioner urges UK to show optimism and ambition over Brexit

If the UK approaches Brexit with optimism and ambition, it has a bright future based on free trade with like-minded countries around the world to which to look forward, the Australian High Commissioner to the UK claimed last week.

Alexander Downer, formerly Australia’s longest-serving foreign minster with a tenure of 16 years, pictured left, made the comments at City & Financial Global’s trade conference, where he also revealed that Australia and the UK were poised to sign a fintech deal that would ensure greater cooperation between the two countries’ regulatory authorities.

Asked by the conference moderator which countries international trade secretary Liam Fox should approach the day after Brexit, Downer said he would look to the countries he’s going to get “the greatest benefit” from.

“I think probably I would start with low-hanging fruit,” said Downer, saying that he would start with “countries like Australia, New Zealand, countries which are very like-minded and have similar sorts of institutions, in particular legal institutions, and have the same sort of approach to economic policy”.

“So if I could make some agreements quickly with countries like that, they’re not going to transform my economy,” he said.

“But if I could make those sorts of agreements quickly, that would give the international community the confidence that the UK was on the right track.”

Beyond that, he would look to the US, Japan and China, he said.

“We in Australia have managed to make free trade agreements with all those countries, and they are free-trade agreements, that’s not just code for something else.

“So there’s no reason, if I were Liam Fox, I couldn’t knock over those as well.”

Asked about the trade agreement between the EU and Canada, CETA, he was scathing, saying that it was “preposterous” that it would take seven years to negotiate a free trade agreement with Canada.

“A more like-minded country, the EU could barely find anywhere in the world!” he exclaimed to laughter from the audience. “A country that speaks French and English! Very EU! And it takes seven years to negotiate a trade agreement with them!”

It does not take Australia seven years to negotiate trade agreements, he said, saying that his country had negotiated a trade agreement with the United States in 15 months, and in total had negotiated eight free trade agreements in the past 12 years.”

Eugene Costello
Eugene Costello has been a journalist for some 20 years, and has written for a wide variety of UK and international newspapers and magazines.

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