The European Union wants to launch and conclude free trade negotiations with Australia and New Zealand in the next two years, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Wednesday, opening up a potential race with Britain.
If Juncker’s timeframe is achieved, the EU could nip in ahead of the UK, which is also courting both countries but cannot negotiate independent trade deals until it leaves the EU in March 2019.
Juncker said there was a good chance that the EU would agree the main elements of a new free trade with the Mercosur countries of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay and of an updated trade partnership with Mexico by the end of this year.
“And today, we are proposing to open trade negotiations with Australia and New Zealand,” Juncker told EU lawmakers.
“I want all of these agreements to be finalised by the end of this mandate. And I want them negotiated in the fullest transparency,” he added. The current Commission’s term of office runs until Oct. 31, 2019.