A senior negotiator from Canberra has already arrived in Britain, while top civil servants from Australia have briefed their counterparts in London on the ins and outs of trade deals, Australian High Commissioner Alexander Downer told The Sunday Telegraph.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May met Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull last month, when they agreed to kickstart trade talks imminently, while Australia’s Trade Minister also met his British counterpart Liam Fox.
A deal could make goods such as wine, beef and dairy products cheaper as UK shoppers would no longer have to pay the EU’s import taxes, while Australia is a big buyer of British cars.
«We import a lot of Range Rovers and Land Rovers and Bentleys,» Downer said
A deal would also cover services such as finance.
Downer said the two countries would soon start scouting out potential disputes and areas of agreement. He insisted Australia would want few barriers.
«Our starting point is always that free trade means free trade, to borrow a phrase.»
The two sides have agreed to form a working group, which is expected to prepare the way for formal negotiations.
Australia also offered to help Britain by lending the UK some trade negotiators and experts, as Britain has not had an independent trade policy since joining the EU 43 years ago.
Now it has emerged that the two governments followed through on those offers almost instantly, with training from Australia’s experienced negotiators forming the first step.
«Two people who were our ambassadors to the World Trade Organisation have been over here talking to British officials,» Downer said.
Officials have also arrived from Canberra to clear the way to full negotiations.
Downer said Australian officials had also discussed how Britain could build up its expertise in trade deals. Australia has a system of university courses specialising in negotiations.
«We are just starting to get in trade experts to work here. We have already brought in an expert, someone who has been involved in a whole series of free trade agreement negotiations,» Downer said. «We will reinforce that team with more trade experts should we get into a free trade negotiation.»
In terms of goods alone, Britain’s exports to Australia amounted to £4 billion ($6.9b) last year, while imports were worth almost £2b.
Until Brexit takes place the UK is still tied to the EU and cannot sign its own trade deals. But ministers expect to be able to prepare the ground ahead of that day.