Troubles affecting CETA 'could alter Australia's approach to an EU FTA'

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The recent troubles affecting the passage of the EU's free trade deal with Canada could affect Australia's intentions of negotiating a similar agreement.

The difficulties the EU and Canada have faced in trying to finalize their Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) could have knock-on effects for the prospects of a future deal between the EU and Australia.

Australian trade minister Steven Ciobo has confirmed to the Sydney Morning Herald that his country's government is still keen to press ahead with a new trade agreement with Europe, despite the fact that CETA's future currently hangs in the balance as ministers struggle to come to an agreement.

However, the minister added that the scope of any prospective Australian deal may now be reduced in order to avoid hitting the same roadblocks that CETA has encountered.

The EU and Canada had previously been hoping to sign off on CETA - which is one of the largest free trade agreements (FTAs) in European history - this week. Canada's government is in favor of the deal, as are 27 of the 28 members of the EU.

However, the regional government of Wallonia in south Belgium has voted against the bill, citing concerns that it will hand too much power to multinationals to override government regulations, as well as reservations about the impact of freer imports from Canada on local producers.

Subsequent efforts to persuade Wallonian minister-president Paul Magnette to back down have proven fruitless, essentially stymying the deal, which requires unanimous approval from all 28 EU member states to be passed.

With these concerns in mind, the Australian government is now considering opting for a smaller-scale deal that can be signed off by the EU Commission alone, rather than a broader FTA that would need to be ratified by all parliaments across the EU.

Mr Ciobo said: "Maybe we will look at a deal that is solely within the EU Commission's competence, and maybe we will look at the pros and cons of making it more comprehensive than that.

"These are all part of discussions and decisions that will have to be made over the coming months. I'm certainly not fatalistic about it, I'm certainly not pessimistic about it."