Australia Hoping to Lock-In First Free Trade Deal With Middle Eastern Nation

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Australia is pursuing its first Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with a Middle Eastern nation as it looks to bed down an FTA with the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Trade ministers from both countries have released a joint statement outlining an intent to lock-in the FTA. Current two-way trade between Australia and the UAE is worth AU$6.8 billion (US$5 billion) and two-way investment at AU$16 billion (US$11.8 billion).

“The UAE is Australia’s gateway to the Middle East and presents an opportunity for greater trade diversification,” Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan said in a statement.

“Australia has more than 300 key businesses operating in the UAE, including in building, construction, financial services, agricultural supplies, and training services and a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) would create more opportunities for Australian businesses and workers.”

Current Australian exports to the UAE include aluminium oxide, meat (beef, sheep, and lamb), vehicle parts and accessories, and telecom equipment and parts.

The minister said an agreement could be a building block for future trade deals with other countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council, including Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Kuwait.

The Australian government is also progressing ambitious new trade deals with the European Union and India in a bid to speed up diversification of its trade channels, especially in light of ongoing tensions with China.

FTAs with the EU or India is expected to take time, with India’s trade negotiations already entering its 11th year.

Justin Brown, a former official at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said a trade deal with India would be a “huge win” for the current government’s trade diversification agenda due to its large population base (1.3 billion people).

Brown noted a challenge was to “develop a package that is commercially meaningful” for India.

“Agriculture market access is Australia’s highest priority in the negotiations, but India has been unwilling to make concessions that could result in disruptions of a sector which accounts for about 40 percent of the country’s employment,” he wrote in The Interpreter on Sep. 21, 2021.

Meanwhile, trade negotiations with the EU (450 million people) stalled last year after French displeasure with Australia entering the AUKUS agreement with the United States and United Kingdom.

AUKUS saw the Australian government drop an existing—and troubled—contract with French defence contractor Naval Group.

Daniel Y. Teng


Daniel Y. Teng is based in Sydney. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at

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