Angus Livingston, AAP Senior Political Writer
(Australian Associated Press)
European leaders are pushing for a vote to start negotiating a free trade deal with Australia as early as next week, as they try to counter rising protectionism.
Malcolm Turnbull met with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom in Brussels on Tuesday in a bid to win support for the deal.
The leaders said a free trade agreement between the European Union and Australia is a priority, in part because it sends a message against the United States’ protectionist policies.
Mr Turnbull gave a speech in Germany on Monday in which he called on the EU to lift its restrictions on farm exports, and Mr Juncker and Ms Malmstrom encouraged him to raise the issue with French leaders.
The French farming lobby has been a strong voice against beef imports into the EU, but Mr Turnbull is meeting French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Tuesday and President Emmanuel Macron in Sydney next week.
The EU wants to move quickly on the decision to enter official negotiations, with a vote potentially as early as next week.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Mr Turnbull on Monday to hear his push for a free trade deal.
“Germany has always been in favour to meet Australia’s wish for a free trade agreement and I think we’ve made significant progress on the road towards that,” Ms Merkel told reporters in Berlin on Monday.
Mr Turnbull said a deal would deliver for Australian and European producers and consumers.
“The agreement must address the very restrictive farm tariffs and quotas that our farmers currently face,” he said in a speech on Monday.
He said said striking a deal with Europe would help counter “state capitalism in China and rising protectionism in the United States”.
The leaders discussed recent disturbing signs of protectionism and noted that old friends like Australia and the EU should stick together.
They also spoke about security issues including North Korea, Syria, and cyber security threats.
Earlier in the day, Mr Turnbull met with NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg to talk about Russia, North Korea and the Middle East, and Australia’s commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The prime minister is opening the Sir John Monash Centre in France ahead of Anzac Day.