A long-planned round of Australia-EU free trade talks has been postponed, a European official confirmed on Friday, following fury over Canberra’s decision to cancel a major French submarine contract.
“The FTA trade round has been postponed for a month until November,” an EU official in Canberra told AFP, putting the future of the far-reaching agreement in doubt.
Australia abruptly canceled a multi-billion dollar contract for 12 French submarines last month, opting instead to purchase nuclear-powered US-designed ships.
The decision prompted a major diplomatic dispute with one of the largest members of the European Union and now affects relations with the bloc as a whole.
France has publicly said it can no longer trust Australia’s government, accusing officials of lying and questioning whether the trade deal can go ahead.
Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan, who was due to travel to Europe for talks, downplayed the decision in a statement to AFP.
“We understand France’s reaction to our submarine decision but ultimately any country must act in its own national interest – which is what Australia has done,” he said.
Tehan indicated that he plans to meet with EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrowski next week to discuss the 12th round of discussions.
“We will continue to prepare for the 12th round of negotiations and work towards a free trade agreement that is in the interests of both Australia and the European Union.”
The European Union is Australia’s third largest trading partner.
In 2020, trade in goods between the two economies amounted to 36 billion euros ($42.4 billion) and services 26 billion euros.
The next round of talks was due to cover areas including trade, services, investment and intellectual property rights.
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