President Simpson, ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to be here with you today. I am representing the European Union but of course as an Irishman I am particularly pleased to be in Australia, given the strong links between our two nations.

I have met Ministers Littleproud and Birmingham as well as a number of shadow ministers and the European-Australian Business Council.

All these discussions indicate to me that there is an appetite to deepen our trade links and work closer together for the mutual benefit of our businesses and consumers.

FTA

Let me start by mentioning our ongoing negotiations for a free trade agreement. Like Australia, the European Union is committed to free, fair and rules-based global trade, and we are matching our words with action.

In recent years we have signed strong deals with Japan and Canada, and we are making progress on many more. We are in the business of doing business.

My colleague, EU Commissioner for Trade Cecilia Malmström came to Australia to launch the negotiations in June last year.

After two further rounds in July and November, the 3rd round will be held in March in Canberra.

We are like-minded partners, and in the area of agriculture, we have longstanding ties with well-established trade in many sectors.

We are also celebrating the 25th anniversary of our wine agreement this year. And of course, Australia uses the EU Copernicus satellites for mapping purposes, with a view to improving agricultural productivity and promoting sustainable resource use.

But agriculture will nevertheless be one of the most challenging areas to negotiate in the FTA.

EU Member States held a vigorous debate on agriculture sensitivities before a mandate was agreed and given to the European Commission.

Our sensitive sectors are well-known: beef, sheepmeat, sugar and rice. I believe a mutually beneficial landing zone is achievable, provided our sensitive sectors are fully taken into account.

On the offensive side, we have strong red lines on Sanitary and Phytosanitary matters and on Geographical Indications.

GIs

It seems that there is quite a bit of false information and exaggerated claims in circulation in Australia in relation to our GI list.

If we want to make progress, it would be helpful if we could be more realistic in this policy area.

In reality, the majority of names for which the EU seeks protection under FTAs are not problematic.

As I mentioned earlier, we have enjoyed a long-standing mutually beneficial agreement on Wine since 1994.

This agreement protects EU wines in Australia and 109 Australian wine GIs in Europe.

Before this agreement entered into force, many Australian wine stakeholders had concerns about it, but over the years the majority have come to embrace the GI concept and now see the advantages of it.

We are hopeful that a similar change in mindset will take place in relation to food product GIs.

There is clear potential to extend GI protection to high quality Australian food products.

I understand that there is growing support for GI protection among local producers in rural areas of Australia, particularly South Australia, Victoria, and Tasmania.

And I have been told of a number of potential Australian candidates for GI protection, such as King Island Dairy products, King Island Beef, Tasmanian Whiskey, Huon Salmon, Bangalow pork or Tasmanian lobster.

Moving in this direction and basically applying a bit of common sense would have a positive impact on our trade negotiations.

The protection of GIs is a key element of EU Trade policy, and the Australia FTA is no exception.

We are confident that we can find common-sense solutions under existing international law that will benefit us both.

Brexit

Finally, let me say a few words on Brexit, which has come up in many conversations since we arrived in Australia. Just like Ireland, Australia has strong historical links to the UK, indeed Britain and Ireland are usually the first ports of call for Australians coming to Europe. So I understand that this is an issue of concern for Australian business and citizens.

The EU wants the future relationship with the UK to be as close as possible, and we will do our level best to make sure that we achieve that outcome. However, we cannot make progress until the UK makes up its mind about what kind of Brexit it wants.

My personal hope is that Prime Minister May will roll back on some of her red lines.

Brexit changes day by day, sometimes hour by hour, and we are receiving regular updates from Brussels.

Thank you, and I look forward to hearing your views.