CANBERRA, Australia (AP) –
French and Australian officials said Monday that France’s anger over a canceled submarine treaty will not bring down negotiations on a free trade agreement between Australia and the European Union.
France withdrew its ambassadors to the United States and Australia after President Joe Biden announced a new alliance with Australia and Britain last week that would supply an Australian fleet of at least eight nuclear submarines.
The deal resulted in a $ 90 billion ($ 66 billion) contract for the French state-owned Naval Group to build 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines for Australia. The money would have been spent over 35 years.
The French ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault denied media reports that France had been lobbying the European Union not to sign the trade agreement with Australia that had been negotiated since 2018.
“Negotiations are continuing at this stage and there is a strong interest … for Australia in signing a free trade agreement with the EU,” Thebault told Australian Broadcasting Corp. from Paris.
Such a deal “has the potential to bring tremendous benefits to Australia,” added Thebault.
Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan said he would be traveling to Paris within weeks for trade negotiations and was “very interested in contacting my French counterpart,” Franck Riester.
“My recent trip to Europe to discuss the EU Free Trade Agreement is a strong understanding that this is in the mutual interest of both Australia and Europe,” said Tehan, referring to a visit in April.
“I see no reason why these discussions should not continue,” added Tehan.
French President Emmanuel Macron will speak to Biden in the coming days on their first contact since the diplomatic crisis broke out.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison flew to the United States on Monday to meet with Biden and the leaders of India and Japan who make up the Quad Security Forum.
“The point here is always to ensure that the sovereign interests of Australia come first so that Australians can live here peacefully with the many others in our region, because that is what we want as a peaceful and free nation”, said Morrison before leaving Sydney.
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