Australia and New Zealand Start Trade Talks With Pacific Alliance

By Robb M. Stewart Features Dow Jones Newswires

MELBOURNE, Australia--Australia and New Zealand have started free-trade talks with the Pacific Alliance, seeking increased market access and reduced tariffs with the Latin American trading bloc.

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Trade ministers from the two countries--which have relatively small populations and are reliant on trade--said Saturday that they were starting negotiations with the alliance, which is made up of Mexico, Chile, Peru and Colombia.

Both Australia and New Zealand have been strong proponents of reviving the 11-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership after President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from it in January.

An agreement with the Pacific Alliance would create new export opportunities for Australian farmers, miners, manufacturers and others in some of Latin America's major economies and, importantly, open the door to Mexico for Australian exporters, Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo said.

The six-year-old alliance accounted for gross domestic product of more than $1.8 trillion in 2016 and the four countries account for 38% of the region's population and 57% of its total imports, Mr. Ciobo said.

"Australia's ability to capitalize on this demand is limited by high tariffs that block trade," he said, pointing to levies of up to 80% imposed on Australian beef, up to 45% on dairy and more than 30% on sugar.

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In May, Australia began free-trade talks with Peru in an effort to widen commerce with other countries in the region and as a buffer against U.S. protectionism. As a member of the Pacific Alliance, Peru was viewed as a steppingstone to an agreement with the wider bloc.

Australia relaunched trade negotiations with Indonesia last year, recently began talks with Hong Kong and Mr. Ciobo said he was working toward free-trade negotiations with the European Union.

New Zealand Trade Minister Todd McClay said a free-trade pact with the alliance would open the door for New Zealand companies to do more business and increase two-way trade with four countries that have more than 221 million consumers between them.

"We've worked hard for trade talks with the Pacific Alliance over the last two years and today's announcement will be welcome news for our exporters," Mr. McClay said.

In a statement, the Minerals Council of Australia, which represents dozens of mining and minerals companies, welcomed an opening up of export markets and increased investment opportunities for the industry as well as a boost for wider regional economic liberalization and cooperation.

Write to Robb M. Stewart at robb.stewart@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

July 01, 2017 01:15 ET (05:15 GMT)