Juncker Calls for Free-Trade Talks With Australia and New Zealand

By Emre Peker Features Dow Jones Newswires

The European Union's top executive on Wednesday proposed to examine foreign investments and start free-trade talks with Australia and New Zealand, highlighting the bloc's push to safeguard strategic industries while expanding its global economic links.

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European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker unveiled the highly anticipated initiatives during his annual state of the EU address at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

"We are not naive supporters of free exchange; Europe has always got to defend its strategic interests," Mr. Juncker said. "Europe is open to trade, yes, but there has to be reciprocity."

The push to shield European companies from soaring demand for acquisitions led by China and efforts to level the playing field didn't temper the EU executive's trade zeal, however.

The EU has "a very good chance" to strike a political deal on trade with Mexico and South American countries by year-end, Mr. Juncker said. EU officials are currently in talks to update a 17-year-old free-trade accord with Mexico and ink its first accord with Mercosur--comprised of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. In July, Brussels and Tokyo struck a political agreement on a comprehensive trade accord.

Brussels will now seek to deepen its economic links with Australia and New Zealand, which will add to the list of deals Mr. Juncker aims to complete by the end of his mandate in 2019. The push showcases the EU's ambition to fill the global leadership vacuum in free-trade stemming from President Donald Trump's protectionist economic policies.

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"Europe has always been an attractive economic space," Mr. Juncker said. "But since last year, I see that our partners all over the world are knocking at our door in order to sign trade agreements with us."

Write to Emre Peker at emre.peker@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 13, 2017 04:34 ET (08:34 GMT)