Talks on a proposed free trade agreement (FTA) between the EU and Australia have collapsed after the two sides were unable to reach agreement on key issues such as agriculture.
Both sides accused the other of being unwilling to compromise, with Australian government sources acknowledging that it is now likely to be several years before talks will be able to resume.
Australian agriculture minister Murray Watt said his EU counterparts had been unwilling to offer enough access to European markets for key products such as beef, sheep, dairy and sugar.
He told Australia's ABC Radio National that the EU had failed to significantly improve on proposals that had been put on the table and rejected by Australia three months ago, stating: “They’ve come back now with essentially the same offer, with a couple of tweaks."
Industry groups in Australia, which have been putting pressure on Canberrra not to accept compromises in order to strike an FTA, welcomed the news. In a statement, the National Farmers’ Federation thanked the government for refusing to make a deal that could have left Australian farmers at a disadvantage.
President of the group David Jochinke said: “Today’s decision was a hard one, but ultimately it was the right one ... What was on offer would have hardwired protectionism into our trading relationship with Europe for another generation."
However, a spokesman for the EU expressed disappointment at the outcome of the latest round of talks, noting there had been optimism that a deal was within reach.
He continued: "The Australian side re-tabled agricultural demands that did not reflect recent negotiations and the process between senior officials. The European Commission stands ready to continue negotiations."
With elections for the EU parliament set to take place in June next year and federal elections in Australia due before the end of 2025, the belief on both sides is that it will not be possible to come to a deal in the short term.