LONDON — He may have traveled more than 10,000 miles from Canberra to London, but Dan Tehan left Britain without a trade deal.
The Australian trade minister had hoped to clinch an agreement with his U.K. counterpart Anne-Marie Trevelyan at the end of his long, multi-stop trip across the globe, but the two sides ended up kicking the can.
“I know we’re all impatient to get that signature on the final inked deal,” Tehan told the U.K.-Australia Chamber of Commerce at a breakfast event on Friday, the morning after his meeting with Trevelyan. “I can tell you no one is more impatient than me to get that done. But we do have to make sure that we get it right.”
The two sides reached an “agreement in principle” in June, but have spent months wrangling over the legal text. Converting a 16-page draft agreement into a fully scrubbed tome both sides can sign up to has turned out to be more of a challenge than was hoped.
There are 32 chapters in the agreement, plus four annexes with multiple sub-sections and nine side letters. By the end of Tehan’s visit, 29 of those chapters had their legal text finalized, with three to go.
The Australian version of the deal stands at around 1,600 pages, while the U.K. text is 2,600. “I’m not quite sure whether it’s just the type spacing or the different sides of the schedule,” Tehan quipped, “but they’ve got a few more pages than us.”
“Obviously we’ve got to dot i’s and cross t’s and the final negotiations do take time,” he added, saying he hoped the deal was “not very far away at all.”
The visit was an emotional rollercoaster for U.K. officials hoping to get the agreement over the line. One person said the two sides were “working and progressing” through the day despite the lack of closure.
As the moment seemed to slip away, there was still hope of a surprise last-minute concession — but as the afternoon drew on, it became clear the deal wasn’t going to happen.
Hopes had been raised the previous week by George Brandis, the Australian high commissioner to the U.K., who made clear to the Conservative Party conference the visit was the prime moment to finalize negotiations.
“We hope that the last outstanding issues will be nailed down then when [Tehan] has the first face-to-face meeting with the new trade secretary,” he told a fringe event at the Manchester conference.
Industry insiders with an ear into the negotiations told POLITICO the two sides were still working through tariff rates for different cuts of meat, as well as other political differences. The aim is to get the deal into force during summer 2022.
One person at the event Tehan spoke at said some eyebrows were raised when he said he hoped to build on migration agreements in the deal, one of which will see people under the age of 35 able to get working visas more easily. He said he wanted migration to be “free-flowing” between the two nations, and as good a deal as the U.K. had with the EU.
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