Aus­tralia – New Zealand trade deal: a golden op­por­tu­nity for Malta

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS - Aaron Far­ru­gia is the Par­lia­men­tary Sec­re­tary for European Union Funds Aaron Far­ru­gia

Jean-Claude Juncker de­liv­ered his third State of the Union ad­dress to the European Par­lia­ment on Wed­nes­day. The an­nual speech by the Pres­i­dent of the European Com­mis­sion to MEPs in Stras­bourg was typ­i­cally wide-rang­ing.

I was pleased that Mr Juncker spoke about the im­por­tance of European val­ues and re­in­forced his com­mit­ment to build­ing a union of equals.

It was also im­por­tant for main­tain­ing pub­lic con­fi­dence in the EU that he ad­dressed con­cerns about im­mi­gra­tion and the han­dling of the refugee cri­sis.

But for Malta, the big news in this year’s ad­dress is that the EU Com­mis­sion wants to fast-track trade deals with Aus­tralia and New Zealand.

I am de­lighted that this trade deal is now a pri­or­ity for the Com­mis­sion, and am en­cour­aged to hear that ne­go­ti­a­tions could be­gin in a mat­ter of weeks.

Given our coun­try’s his­toric ties to Aus­tralia and New Zealand, our shared his­tory as for­mer Bri­tish colonies, our use of the English lan­guage and mem­ber­ship of the Com­mon­wealth, this is a very wel­come and ex­cit­ing devel­op­ment.

Malta has much to gain from a free trade agree­ment with our friends in Aus­tralia and New Zealand. If we seize this op­por­tu­nity, it will mean more jobs, more in­vest­ment and greater pros­per­ity, as we work to build a sus­tain­able econ­omy for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Free trade agree­ments can bring us closer to­gether, and the prospect of fast-track trade deals with Aus­tralia and New Zealand are also a ba­sis for forg­ing closer ties to the many Maltese who em­i­grated to the South­ern Hemi­sphere.

Of course, free trade agree­ments only work when we safe­guard work­ers’ rights and health reg­u­la­tions. I am there­fore pleased that the Com­mis­sion has been clear that the fast-track model be­ing pro­posed is fo­cused on only re- duc­ing EU bu­reau­cracy and stream­lin­ing de­ci­sion-mak­ing, and will not come at the ex­pense of more cor­po­rate in­flu­ence and less pub­lic scru­tiny and ac­count­abil­ity. Free trade agree­ments, when done cor­rectly, are of most ben­e­fit to vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple, the work­ing classes and small busi­nesses.

So as we seize this op­por­tu­nity, it is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of politi­cians and so­cial part­ners to en­sure that mis­takes made in pre­vi­ous trade deals are not re­peated here. Pros­per­ity and so­cial jus­tice are not mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive: they can live in har­mony and co-ex­ist. This is what Malta stands for: pros­per­ity with a pur­pose.

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