Britain and Australia share so much: A language, a head of state, and a system of common law. Our soldiers have fought and died on the battlefields of Europe in defence of liberty, democracy and the equal protection of every citizen under the law.
Since then, we have done so much together to uphold and advance those values on the world stage, including through our commitment to open and fair trade and the rules underpinning the international trading system.
Yet despite our shared history and beliefs, what we have never had is a free-trade agreement between our two countries.
Today we are changing that, as Australia and Britain open negotiations on what we hope will be an ambitious and far-reaching deal, one that reaffirms and strengthens our friendship, and delivers growth and prosperity to our respective peoples.
When Britain joined the European Union more than 45 years ago, we turned our backs on some of our closest friends and allies, particularly those in the Commonwealth. Now that we are once again an independent trading nation, we have the freedom to strengthen our ties with these countries.
The foundations for a Britain-Australia deal are strong and firmly in the interests of both our countries. We already have close trading ties in areas such as services, engineering and construction, and food and drink. One in every five bottles of wine drunk in Britain comes from Australia, while Australians benefit from our expertise in architecture and professional and financial services.
A free-trade agreement can build on these successes by increasing market access and lowering tariffs. It will also create new opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses by cutting onerous red tape and removing unnecessary process — particularly in digital trade.
Perhaps most importantly, a deal shows the rest of the world that we are prepared to defend and advance the ideals of open and fair international commerce and the inherent freedoms that come with it.
Free trade has done more than any single economic idea to raise billions out of poverty and has done so incredibly quickly. It places ladders of progress for people and nations to climb by creating jobs, raising living standards, encouraging innovation, and fostering debate and the free exchange of ideas.
Open markets also help keep us safe. Richard Cobden, one of our British forebears and an acolyte of Adam Smith, famously said that free trade is God’s diplomacy –—and the only certain way of uniting people in the bonds of peace, since the more freely goods cross borders the less likely it is that troops will cross them.
Unfortunately, coronavirus has added fuel to the fire of protectionism and encouraged those who advocate statist economies. We are starting to hear autarkic rhetoric about free trade being part of the problem, not the solution, when in fact open markets and international co-operation are urgently needed to help address the defining challenges of our time. Governments must stand up for these fundamental principles of co-operation and free exchange in the interests not just of their own citizens, but of people everywhere.
An agreement between our countries sends a powerful signal that together we intend to do that.