İrem UZUN -TDO- The United Kingdom has formally launched talks with Australia and New Zealand on free-trade agreements following the UK's departure from the European Union. Australia's Trade Minister Simon Birmingham announced the start of official negotiations on Wednesday, in a speech highlighting his country's drive to diversify trade as it is locked in disputes with China. David Parker, New Zealand's minister for trade and export growth, said the country was pleased to be among the first to negotiate on trade with the post-Brexit UK, calling the country "one of our oldest friends".

The UK is Australia’s seventh largest trading partner. Birmingham said Australia and the UK hoped to conclude the deal “as quickly as possible” – possibly by the end of this year, although he conceded that may be an ambitious timeframe. He said both sides wanted “an ambitious and comprehensive agreement that builds on our already significant people-to-people links and creates new opportunities for exporters, generating more jobs in our nations”.

The UK is New Zealand’s sixth largest trading partner, with two-way trade totaling almost NZ$6bn last year. David Parker echoed Birmingham’s sentiments. “As the UK embarks on its next steps post-Brexit, New Zealand is pleased to be among the first countries to negotiate a trade agreement with one of our oldest friends,” Parker said. New Zealand and Britain had “a close relationship, including strong trade and economic ties, common values and traditions and a shared history”, he said.

Parker said talks would focus on removal of trade tariffs, new approaches to non-tariff barriers, streamlined customs, regulatory cooperation, development of digital trade and trade provisions in support of sustainable development – including climate change. Australia and the UK have been working on a possible trade deal since 2016 and have already struck some early agreements that will come into effect from 2021. Birmingham is hopeful of a speedy resolution.

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