Britons under 35 will be allowed to live and work in Australia for three years without farm-work under the terms of a UK-Australia free-trade deal agreed in London by Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson.
The bombshell policy will delight young Britons who are forced to carry out 88 days of gruelling work on a rural property if they want to stay in Australia for a second year on a working holiday visa.
The move will have a huge impact on Australian farmers who are dependent on backpackers – but a new agriculture visa, allowing British farmers to work in Australia, will help mitigate the pain.
Scott Morrison and Boris Johnson (pictured together in London) announced the free trade deal on Tuesday
The changes will not come into play until at least July 2022 when the free trade deal – which has been agreed in principle – is expected to be officially signed.
It is has not yet been decided if Britons who have already used a working holiday visa will be able to re-apply and benefit from the extended working rights.
Prime Minister Morrison said there would be no limit on the number of young people who would be able to move between the two nations.
‘There is a great opportunity for young people from both UK and Australia to move and operate in different countries.
‘That builds capacity, in both countries, with that easy engagement,’ he said in London on Tuesday morning.
In a huge win for Aussie farmers, the trade deal will liberalise Australian imports of beef, sheep meat and sugar into the UK, which became free to set its own trade policy after leaving the European Union.
Tariffs will be reduced gradually over time and the tariff-free threshold for products will be increased.
The UK government said there will be a cap on tariff-free imports for 15 years, while other ‘safeguards’ will be brought in to protect British farmers who fear competition from Aussie products.
Mr Morrison said the deal was a huge win for Aussie farmers who are trying to diversify exports amid trade struggles with China, its largest trading partner by far.
Beijing has blocked Australia seafood beef, barley and wine after Mr Morrison called for an inquiry into the origins of Covid-19 last year.
‘This provides more opportunities, and greater resilience for Australia’s exporters, all around the world,’ Mr Morrison said.
British people under the age of 35 will be able to work in Australia for three years
The terms of the landmark deal – Briton’s first trade deal negotiated from scratch since Brexit – was agreed by Mr Morrison and Mr Johnson over a dinner at Number 10 Downing Street on Monday evening.
Hailing the deal, Prime Minister Johnson said: ‘Today marks a new dawn in the UK’s relationship with Australia, underpinned by our shared history and common values.
‘Our new free-trade agreement opens fantastic opportunities for British businesses and consumers, as well as young people wanting the chance to work and live on the other side of the world.
‘This is global Britain at its best – looking outwards and striking deals that deepen our alliances and help ensure every part of the country builds back better from the pandemic.’
Earlier on Monday Mr Morrison told an Australia-UK Chamber of Commerce audience that the UK’s exit from the European Union could be a boon for Australian exporters as Britain sought new trade partners.
‘As the United Kingdom moves into a completely new generation of their trading relationships with the world, who better to start that journey with than Australia?’ Mr Morrison said.
The agreement, which was forecast to be worth around $1.3billion per year to Australian exporters, will help Aussie farmers diversify their exports as relations with China sour.
Pictured: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) greeting Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (left) at Downing Street in London on Monday evening
Instead of opting for a formal handshake, Mr Johnson (right) greeted Mr Morrison (left) with an elbow bump
The change comes after a shocking new report seen by Daily Mail Australia showed the widespread exploitation of casual fruit and vegetable pickers in Australia, with some working up to 20 hours a day and for as little as $1 an hour.
Under Australian law, farmers do not have to pay the minimum wage to piece-rate workers, who instead get paid for the amount of fruit they pick.
Farmers say the best pickers can earn well above the minimum wage and argue the system is needed to make sure workers are not bludging on the job – but unions say it leads to exploitation and want a minimum hourly rate instead.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said farmers and leaders will ‘have to think differently’ about labour supplies and remove UK backpackers from the scheme.
‘The world has changed so we are going to have to think differently about labour supply, the seasonal labour supply for agriculture,’ he said.
‘There are solutions that the government is trying to explore and will explore to make up that cohort that would be lost of UK backpackers that aren’t working on farms for those 88 days.’
Mr Morrison has spoken repeatedly of his ambition to honour the ‘special relationship’ between the two countries and was pivotal in seeking a quick deal with the UK, prioritising talks on his current trip to the country.
Pictured: The two leaders awkwardly touching elbows in a Covid-safe exchange on Monday
Ahead of the formal announcement, the prime minister practiced his free trade pitch before an audience of business leaders in London.
Mr Morrison described the effect of the UK joining the European common market in the 1970s as a devastating blow to Australian producers.
‘The Brexit that has occurred is an opportunity for us to pick up where we left off all those many years ago and to once again realise the scale of the trading relationship we once had.’
Several key sticking points had to be overcome before the agreement could be reached.
Agriculture firmed as the major obstacle, with consensus on Australian beef and lamb exports proving particularly elusive.
British dairy farmers were also sceptical about the deal, fearing competition from Aussie products.
Following the odd interaction, the pair posed together for photographers on Monday evening
Australian officials described negotiations as tough and the two trade ministers were in daily contact for more than a week.
‘At the end of the day there will always be hesitancy when any country enters into a trade arrangement with any other country – that is quite normal,’ Mr Morrison said.
‘We have quite a lot of experience in that, we’ve been able to secure many of these arrangements, and of course you need to explain them to your populations but the ultimate explanation is jobs.
‘We either are passionate about growing the markets in which we can operate – providing opportunities for our own producers and suppliers and services – or we will stay in a situation of being unable to take up those opportunities.’
The prime minister did not want to sign an agreement for the sake of it only to have arguments down the track.
Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles said Labor had concerns about agricultural exports and visa conditions for farm workers, which the party would work through in time.
He urged Mr Morrison to crack on with the deal, having spoken about it since 2016.
‘Trade agreements are important for our country and trade diversification is important for our country,’ Mr Marles told Sky News.
‘The government has been talking about this. What we actually want to see is for them to get this deal done. When they do we’ll obviously have a good look at the detail.’
Pictured: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (left) and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) heading inside at 10 Downing Street, London
A split in the UK Cabinet also appeared between International Trade Secretary Liz Truss and Environment Secretary George Eustice, who had concerns about the impact on farmers.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove also harbours feared a deal could fuel demands for Scottish and Welsh independence.
Last month, Mr Johnson insisted a free trade deal with Australia should be seen as an ‘opportunity’ and not a ‘threat’ despite fears among UK farmers the agreement could put them out of business.
Trade Secretary Liz Truss was given the go-ahead to bring about the post-Brexit deal in spite of a significant backlash from the UK agriculture industry.
Australia has been negotiating for a five-year period of cutting import and export taxes, but the idea has stoked fear that British farmers would be undercut by the introduction of cheaper beef and lamb from overseas.
WHAT DO THE CHANGES MEAN FOR YOU?
What Australia wants from a free trade agreement with the UK:
– Improve market access for Australian agricultural and industrial products.
– Reduce barriers to trade and costs through modern customs, rules of origin and trade facilitation procedures.
– Address ‘non-tariff’ barriers such as unclear animal and plant health requirements, inconsistently applied product standards and government procurement policies.
– Better access for Australian financial and professional services.
– Establish best practice digital trade commitments.
– Greater certainty for investors through clear rules and regulations.
– Identify opportunities for small and medium sized businesses.
– Support innovation and creativity through trade and investment in intellectual property.
– Promote compliance with internationally recognised labour standards.
– Ensure high levels of environmental protection.
– Establish a country to country dispute settlement process.
MAIN IMPORTS AND EXPORTS:
– Australia’s main exports to the UK are gold, alcohol, lead, personal travel and professional services.
– The UK’s main exports to Australia are cars, medicines, personal travel and professional services.
Source: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade