Written by 2:48 am European Union

Bernd Lange says Aussies could get easier work access in Europe under deal

“It is really time for a good, fair and sustainable trade agreement. I’m quite optimistic this will set a new standard for agreements.”

In his role, Mr Lange is also shepherding through the European Parliament laws aimed at tackling Chinese coercion.

China has sought to punish Australia by imposing de facto bans or punitive tariffs on goods including coal, beef, seafood, wine and barley over the past two years as political relations between Canberra and Beijing hit rock bottom.

Beijing has a pattern of using trade against countries it is unhappy with. Last year it targeted Lithuania, an EU member, in retaliation for strengthening ties with Taiwan, which raised European awareness of China’s actions.

Trade as a political weapon

Mr Lange said the laws were still being finalised, including definitions of coercion, criteria for investigation and countermeasures that could be taken, such as tariffs.

He said economic relations with China went both ways, given foreign companies produced about 20 per cent of China’s GDP and contributed a similar percentage in tax revenue. He added the EU also held concerns over the use of forced labour.

“We want to make a clear, effective instrument if anybody is using trade or investment as a tool to influence political decisions,” he said.

“You mentioned Lithuania, but we have a lot of cases worldwide where trade is politicised as a weapon. That is not acceptable. We are totally in line with the Australian government.”

With the next round of FTA talks to be held next month, Mr Lange said he expected “significant progress” to be made.

He said Australian negotiators were pushing for greater agricultural access, free movement of workforce and recognition of qualifications.

“The question of a visa for professional use, I guess the European Union will be making some concessions,” he said.

Mr Lange said the EU was prioritising standard setting for “green goods” as part of the energy transition, as well as labour rights and sustainability.

Benefits for smaller enterprises

On the stumbling block of geographical indicators for food products, Mr Lange said he believed this was not insurmountable, pointing to the bloc’s FTA with Canada for guidance.

This could result in products labelled as “Australian-style prosecco” or “Australian-style feta”.

“If we make clear the trademark is not really in competition to the protected trademark in the European Union, then I think we can find a compromise,” he said.

In light of criticism that FTAs had only benefitted bigger businesses, Mr Lange said the agreement with Australia would include a specific chapter so small and medium enterprises could share in the gains.

“That is a lesson learnt from other trade agreements, that not only big companies should get all the benefits,” he said.

Mr Lange said there had been no talks about using Australian gas to replace Russian supplies, but the EU saw Australia as a supplier of green hydrogen down the track.

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