Farm groups call on Australia to not sign 'dud' trade deal with EU

FILE PHOTO: Cattle at a farm on Kangaroo Island, Australia

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australian farm industry groups on Monday called on the government to not sign a trade deal with the European Union unless it offered much greater market access for Australian agricultural products.

Australia, one of the world's biggest exporters of farm goods from wheat and beef to wool and wine, has been negotiating a trade deal with the EU since 2018.

Canberra said in July it had walked away from a deal it saw as inadequate for farmers, but talks have since resumed.

Trade Minister Don Farrell is due to meet his EU counterpart at a meeting of Group of Seven (G7) trade ministers in Osaka on Oct. 28-29, their first face-to-face meeting since July.

Australian farmers are concerned that Farrell will sign a "dud deal" that would put them at a disadvantage to other global exporters for decades, the National Farmers' Federation (NFF) said in a statement.

"We're yet to hear any indication that the EU is willing to put a commercially meaningful deal on the table," NFF President Fiona Simson said.

"Everything we've seen so far would actually send parts of our sector backwards," she said. "The message from Australian farmers is clear and united: if it's a dud deal, keep the signing pen in your pocket."

Meat and Livestock Australia, another industry group, also said the deal must be improved before it is signed, calling the EU's position on red meat quotas "highly restrictive".

Farrell said in a statement that he had made it clear that Australia wants a trade agreement with the EU, but not at any cost.

"Any deal must include practical benefits for Australian businesses, including improved market access for our farmers and producers," he said.

Neither side has revealed their negotiating positions, but Reuters reported this month that proposed EU import quotas for Australian sugar were so low they are not commercially viable to ship.

While Australia wants access to EU markets for its farm output, much of which is now subject to tariffs and quotas, the EU is likely to gain simplified investment access to Australia's critical minerals industry.

(Reporting by Peter Hobson; Editing by Jamie Freed)