UK to hold trade and defence talks with 'best mate' Australia

British and Australian ministers to meet this week in UK for annual 'Aukmin' meeting

Britain's Foreign Secretary James Cleverly arrives to Downing Street for the weekly cabinet meeting in London on January 31, 2023. AFP
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

As the UK and Australia meet this week for talks on trade and defence, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has described the two countries as the “best of mates”.

Discussions will be held in London, Salisbury and Portsmouth this week with James Cleverly and Defence Secretary Ben Wallace set to meet Australian ministers.

The annual “Aukmin” meeting will be attended by Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Defence Minister Richard Marles, who is also the Deputy Prime Minister.

“The UK and Australia are the best of mates and for over a century we have been hard-headed champions of freedom and democracy," Mr Cleverly said.

“In an increasingly volatile world, we are pursuing a forward-looking agenda with Australia as a trusted partner and friend.

“Together we are promoting prosperity and security in the Indo-Pacific, boosting trade and pursuing our vital climate targets.”

After talks on Wednesday, the group will visit Salisbury Plain to see Australian and British troops training Ukrainian soldiers, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said.

Britain's Foreign Secretary James Cleverly attends a Cabinet meeting at Downing Street in London on January 31. EPA

The training programme, which also involves troops from Canada, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, Lithuania and the Netherlands, is part of an “acceleration of efforts” to aid Ukraine in defeating the invading Russian force, officials say.

On Thursday, the Foreign Office said ministers would gather for meetings at the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth to discuss long-term co-operation in the Indo-Pacific, and broader collaboration on climate, security and trade.

The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, published in 2021, announced a UK “tilt” towards the Indo-Pacific.

London wants to protect security interests amid China’s growing influence in the region, and to capitalise economically.

It has applied to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership a £9 trillion ($11.1 trillion) free trade bloc.

The Foreign Office said the region was set to account for half of global growth by 2050.

UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace at the Ukraine Military Aid Meeting at Tapa military camp, Estonia, on January 19. EPA

London and Canberra are working closely on defence, with a three-way Aukus pact between the UK, Australia and the US signed in September 2021 set to deliver nuclear-powered submarines to the Commonwealth country.

Officials said ministers would “take stock of progress” on Aukus and review work towards ratifying the UK’s free-trade agreement with Australia, which is expected to come into force in spring.

Former environment secretary George Eustice has become one of the most vocal critics of the deal, saying British negotiations gave away “far too much” to secure the post-Brexit agreement.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak met Australian Premier Anthony Albanese at the G20 summit in Bali and Indo-Pacific minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan visited Australia in November.

Updated: February 01, 2023, 12:01 AM