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'Fingers crossed' European trade deal will come through

Australia and the EU could hold further talks on a free trade agreement in coming weeks, but the trade minister insists it must be in the national interest.

Australian Trade Minister Don Farrell and delegates of the EU Parliament Committee on International Trade (INTA) at Parliament House in Canberra. Image AAP

Trade Minister Don Farrell says if a trade deal is not struck with the European Union by the end of the year, it's unlikely to happen before the middle of the decade. 

Australia and Europe are locked in tense negotiations over a free trade agreement, with Canberra insisting what is on the table does not offer enough market access.

Senator Farrell said while he wants a deal signed, he is prepared to walk away if it's not in Australia's best interest. 

"Fingers crossed, one of these days I'll be able to come back to Australia and report that we've got a free trade agreement with the Europeans," he told ABC Radio on Thursday.

"I've had three so far unsuccessful meetings with the Europeans.

"But I had another chat with them last last Thursday and we've agreed for our officials to keep talking and hopefully to have a face-to-face meeting in the next few weeks."

If an agreement is not reached by December, it would "in all probability be another two years before we can recommence negotiations", as Europe will go into domestic election cycles and the deal will likely fall by the wayside. 

"That will almost certainly mean that they're focused on domestic European issues and not trade issues," Senator Farrell told AAP.

The senator will meet his European counterpart Valdis Dombrovskis face-to-face for the next round of negotiations after holding a phone call with him.

"I want an agreement with the Europeans - it's a population of 450 million people and a $24 trillion economy," Senator Farrell said.  

"But it has to be a good agreement."

Assistant trade minister Tim Ayres said the government would continue to work through the issues in Australia's national interest and in a careful way. 

"The last round of discussions with the European Union couldn't bridge the gap on agriculture - the offer took too much and offered too little," he said.

The federal government is working to diversify its trading relationships and economic partnerships, especially within Asia, after Chinese economic coercion hurt Australian businesses and slashed export dollars.

The EU was Australia's second-largest trading partner in 2020, as well as the seventh-largest export destination, fourth-largest services market and second-largest source of foreign investment.


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