Australia and UK set to confirm trade deal

Scott Morrison will announce an in-principle agreement towards an Australia-UK free trade deal after meeting with Boris Johnson to finalise the details.

The pair worked through outstanding issues over dinner at 10 Downing Street overnight.

“Their agreement is a win for jobs, businesses, free trade and highlights what two liberal democracies can achieve while working together,” a spokesman for the prime minister told AAP.

“Both PMs will make a formal announcement on Tuesday morning in London and release further information.”

The deal will pave the way for more Australians to live and work in Britain and offer exporters more market options.

Ahead of the formal announcement, the prime minister practised his free trade pitch before an audience of business leaders in London.

“As the United Kingdom moves into a completely new generation of their trading relationships with the world, who better to start that journey with than Australia?” Mr Morrison said.

He described the effect of the UK joining the European common market in the 1970s as a devastating blow to Australian producers.

“The Brexit that has occurred is an opportunity for us to pick up where we left off all those many years ago and to once again realise the scale of the trading relationship we once had.”

Several key sticking points needed to be overcome before the agreement could be reached.

Agriculture firmed as the major obstacle, with consensus on Australian beef and lamb exports proving particularly elusive.

British dairy farmers were also sceptical about the deal.

Australian officials described negotiations as tough and the two trade ministers were in daily contact for more than a week.

“At the end of the day there will always be hesitancy when any country enters into a trade arrangement with any other country – that is quite normal,” Mr Morrison said.

“We have quite a lot of experience in that, we’ve been able to secure many of these arrangements, and of course you need to explain them to your populations but the ultimate explanation is jobs.

“We either are passionate about growing the markets in which we can operate – providing opportunities for our own producers and suppliers and services – or we will stay in a situation of being unable to take up those opportunities.”

The prime minister did not want to sign an agreement for the sake of it only to have arguments down the track.

Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles said Labor had concerns about agricultural exports and visa conditions for farm workers, which the party would work through in time.

He urged Mr Morrison to crack on with the deal, having spoken about it since 2016.

“Trade agreements are important for our country and trade diversification is important for our country,” Mr Marles told Sky News.

“The government has been talking about this. What we actually want to see is for them to get this deal done. When they do we’ll obviously have a good look at the detail.”

© AAP 2021

Biden to urge G7 leaders to call out China

The United States plans to push democratic allies to publicly call out China for forced labour practices as the Group of Seven leaders gather at a summit where they will also unveil an infrastructure plan meant to compete with Beijing’s efforts in the developing world.

The provocative proposal is part of US President Joe Biden’s escalating campaign to get fellow democratic leaders to present a more unified front to compete economically with China in the century ahead, according to two senior administration officials who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the plans for the seaside summit publicly.

The officials said Biden wanted G7 leaders to speak out in a single voice against forced labour practices targeting Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities. Biden hopes the denunciation will be part of the joint communique released at the summit’s end, but some European allies have been reluctant to so forcefully split with Beijing. It may not be clear until the three-day summit ends on Sunday whether the leaders will take that step.

The wealthy nations’ leaders were all smiles and unity as they were welcomed to the summit on Friday by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the freshly raked sand of Carbis Bay for their first gathering since 2019.

Last year’s gathering was cancelled because of COVID-19, and recovery from the pandemic is dominating this year’s discussions, with members of the wealthy democracies’ club expected to commit to sharing at least 1 billion vaccine shots with struggling countries.

China also loomed large over the meeting on the craggy coast of Cornwall. Biden’s proposed critique of China’s labour practices was to be raised as the allies unveil an infrastructure proposal dubbed “Build Back Better for the World,” a name that echoes the slogan of the American president’s election campaign.

The plan calls for spending hundreds of millions of dollars in collaboration with the private sector. It’s designed to compete with China’s trillion-dollar “Belt and Road Initiative,” which has launched a network of projects and maritime lanes that already snake around large portions of the world, primarily Asia and Africa. Critics say the projects often create massive debt and expose nations to undue influence by Beijing.

Not every European power has viewed China in as harsh a light as Biden, who has painted the rivalry with the techno-security state as the defining competition for the 21st century. But there are signs that Europe is willing to put greater scrutiny on Beijing.

Weeks before Biden took office last year, the European Commission announced it had come to terms with Beijing on the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, a deal meant to provide Europe and China greater access to each other’s markets. The Biden administration had hoped to have consultations on the pact.

But the deal has been put on hold, and the European Union in March announced sanctions targeting four Chinese officials involved with human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Beijing, in turn, responded by imposing sanctions on several members of the European Parliament and other Europeans critical of the Chinese Communist Party.

Biden administration officials see the moment as an opportunity to take concrete action to speak out against China’s reliance on forced labour as an “affront to human dignity.”

While calling out China in the communique wouldn’t create any immediate penalties for Beijing, one senior administration official said the action was meant to send a message that the G7 was serious about defending human rights and working together to eradicate the use of forced labour.

An estimated 1 million people or more – most of them Uyghurs – have been confined in re-education camps in China’s western Xinjiang region in recent years, according to researchers. Chinese authorities have been accused of imposing forced labour, systematic forced birth control, torture and separating children from incarcerated parents.

Beijing rejects allegations that it is committing crimes.

© DPA 2021

Australian PM arrives in UK for G7 summit

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has arrived in the United Kingdom as a representative of one of four guest countries invited to the G7 summit.

“This is a very important place for Australia to be today as we touch down here in the United Kingdom to join the G7-plus dialogue,” Mr Morrison said after arriving at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire on Friday morning.

His plane had been set to land at Cornwall’s Newquay airport but this was cancelled because of heavy fog, requiring a drive of several hours for the prime minister to reach summit venue at Carbis Bay, Cornwall.

“This is the third occasion that we’ve had the privilege to be invited to be part of these discussions and there is a lot on this agenda for Australia,” he said.

Mr Morrison was previously invited to the G7-plus 2019 summit in Biarritz, France, while the 2020 event was to be in the US but was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Australia would commit 20 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to an effort led by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to vaccinate the world, he said.

“These 20 million doses will go to support doses in our region, to ensure that we continue to exercise our responsibility as part of a broader global responsibility to combat this virus.”

The G7 group of wealthy democracies – the UK, United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan – have invited the leaders of Australia, South Korea, South Africa and India to take part this year.

“There has never been a more important time for Australia to be sitting around such a table,” Mr Morrison said.

“Dealing with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the recession that it has caused and the recovery that we are building, particularly at home in Australia, with our economy being bigger today than it was before the pandemic hit.”

He said the summit would help ensure “the rules-based order that protects our trade but also protects our seas, and protects the way that countries can live and work together in a positive way all around the world”.

Australia is also on the cusp of inking a free trade deal with the UK, with officials hoping for progress as Mr Morrison meets Mr Johnson after the G7 concludes on Sunday.

Farmers’ access to Britain has been a key sticking point in negotiations as UK agriculture groups worry about Australian beef and lamb flooding the market.

Australia has rubbished the claim, with the National Farmers Federation estimates 0.15 per cent of all beef exports go to the UK.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham, who launched negotiations when he held the trade portfolio, signalled a deal was close.

He said Australia viewed agricultural market access as crucial to any trade deal.

“What we’re looking for there is to have as open a market as is absolutely possible for Australian goods to enter as free from tariffs and as free from quotas,” Senator Birmingham told Sky News on Friday.

At the summit, Mr Morrison will sit down with other world leaders and attend sessions on health, the economy and climate change.

He is expected to meet US President Joe Biden, Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in.

While Mr Morrison is not expected to make any new commitments on climate, Australia is facing calls to support carbon tariffs on emissions-intensive imports.

However, the prime minister considers any form of carbon tariff to be against Australia’s national interest.

Mr Morrison is keen to focus on preparedness for future pandemics, business-led growth, free and fair trade and the international rules-based order.

Before the conference, the prime minister had a face-to-face meeting with Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong.

Singapore is expected to be the second country after New Zealand to establish a quarantine-free travel bubble with Australia but a new arrangement remains months away.

Mr Lee indicated the travel bubble would not be approved until the majority of populations in both countries had been vaccinated.

Australia lags behind Singapore in the vaccination process, having fully immunised less than three per cent of the adult population.

Just under half the 4.7 million population in Singapore has been fully vaccinated.

© AAP 2021

Morrison lands Singapore deal ahead of G7

Scott Morrison has got off to a flying start on a three-nation tour by reaching a deal with Singapore to work on the conditions for a travel bubble.

Mr Morrison made a brief visit to Singapore on Thursday for talks with his counterpart Lee Hsien Loong.

It was the first stop on his way to Cornwall for the G7 leaders’ summit, as well as trade and security talks in London and Paris.

Over the past week Singapore has recorded an average of just four local COVID-19 cases a day, with its vaccine rollout well under way, restrictions easing and rapid test kits about to go on sale to the public in pharmacies.

Mr Morrison said systems will be put in place to enable the two countries to open up in a similar way to the Australia-New Zealand bubble “when we are both in a position to do so”.

“There is nothing impeding us – as we discussed today – from getting on with the job of putting systems in place that will enable such a bubble to emerge between Singapore and Australia,” he said.

Students would get priority when the bubble was established.

Mr Lee said at the joint media conference the world was now moving into the “next phase of the fight”, in relation to the pandemic.

The “safe and calibrated” air travel bubble would start with mutual recognition of vaccine certificates, he said.

“When ready then we can start small with an air travel bubble to build confidence on both sides,” he said.

The two leaders signed a memorandum of understanding on health care and health technology and agreed to start talks on a “fintech bridge” which would make it easier to cooperate on financial technology.

As well, a “green economy” agreement will be negotiated, alongside greater collaboration on hydrogen and other low-emissions fuels.

Beyond the pandemic, Mr Morrison and Mr Lee discussed regional security, which will also be the focus of talks in Cornwall, London and Paris.

At the G7, Mr Morrison will attend three sessions – on health, the economy and climate – and meet with US President Joe Biden, Japanese leader Yoshihide Suga and Korea’s Moon Jae-in.

After the summit he’ll meet with British PM Boris Johnson in London and hold talks in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron.

“There has never been a more important time for Australia to be at the table with the world’s largest liberal democracies and advanced economies,” Mr Morrison said in a statement.

“The global pandemic and the recession it has caused means like-minded countries and businesses need to work together to lead the global recovery to restore lives and livelihoods.

“There is a lot at stake for Australia, the region and the world.”

While Mr Morrison is not expected to make any new commitments on climate, Australia is facing calls to support a so-called “carbon border adjustment mechanism” – a levy on the carbon content of emissions-intensive imports.

However, the prime minister considers any form of “carbon tariff” to be against Australia’s national interest.

Mr Morrison said while tackling climate change would be a key issue, other focus areas would be preparedness for future pandemics, business-led growth, free and fair trade and the international rules-based order.

© AAP 2021

Keyboard Computer Phone

Major websites back online after widespread outage overnight

News sites around the world are now back online this morning after a major outage took down media heavyweights overnight.

Australian sites such as The Guardian, The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, Channel 10, 10 Play and Nine experienced issues as a result of the crash.

While international platforms such as Amazon, Reddit, Netflix and Pinterest went down, alongside The New York Times, Financial Times, the BBC and CNN.

When it first happened, no one was sure exactly what had happened, with some guessing it may have been a large coordinated attack.

However, it’s since been confirmed that the outage was caused by ‘Fastly’, an American data centre provider.

Those who were affected are still being warned that customers could still have issues throughout today, as techs work to fully fix the problem.

Other sites that crashed include The Verge, Bloomberg, 7Plus, the White House and the UK government’s website, Twitch PayPal, Spotify and Shopify.