Trade minister Dan Tehan has signalled he will raise issues regarding COVID-19 vaccines during upcoming Free Trade Agreement (FTA) negotiations in Europe and the United Kingdom.
Tehan on Wednesday said he and his ministerial counterparts in Germany, France and Brussels would hold talks on the European Union’s export restrictions and vaccine production.
“I will also be discussing the supply of EU-produced COVID-19 vaccines that Australia has contracted and how we can work with the EU to enhance the global supply of vaccines,” he said in a statement.
Speaking on ABC News on Wednesday, Tehan said his New Zealand counterpart has asked him to “use New Zealand’s name in pressing the case against export restrictions being used, because they can disrupt planning right across the globe of the vaccine rollout”.
The Morrison government has largely blamed the EU for hindering Australia’s vaccine rollout by blocking millions of AstraZeneca vaccine doses from entering the country, which the EU has denied.
The government has been widely criticised for failing to rollout the COVID-19 vaccine as quickly as it had planned, and has reversed its initial target of having all Australians receive their first jab by October. The government has not set a new target for completing first doses, as there are too many “uncertainties”, Scott Morrison has said.
Morrison has asked the national cabinet to meet twice a week to sort out issues with the vaccination scheme, starting on Monday.
Tehan has said he would also “encourage investment in Australia” during his overseas travels. His first meeting will be with World Trade Organization director-general Okonjo-Iweala in Geneva, to discuss WTO reform and updating global trading rules to benefit Australian businesses.
He will also meet with World Intellectual Property Organization director-general Daren Tang, European Commission vice president and trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis, and secretary of state for international trade Liz Truss.
The trade minister will also co-chair the second Australia-France Trade and Investment Dialogue with minister delegate for foreign trade and economic attractiveness Franck Riester.
Tehan noted that Australia’s network of Free Trade Agreements comprises 15 agreements with 26 countries.
“Free Trade Agreements with the EU and UK would give Australian producers preferential access to more than 500 million consumers and that will translate to more jobs, growth, economic and trade opportunities and innovation in Australia,” he said.
“Our negotiations will uphold our commitment to rules-based trade and investment liberalisation while protecting our national interest. We are advancing negotiations with the EU and UK as we seek to finalise these agreements consistent with our national interest.”