China Daily (Hong Kong)

Melbourne signs train deal with France amid subs row


PARIS — French firm Alstom signed a contract on Monday to provide commuter trains to Melbourne, as a diplomatic spat between France and Australia over a canceled submarine deal rages, Agence FrancePres­se reported.

Alstom said in a statement that it will supply 25 six-car X’trapolis trains to Australia’s second most populous city in a 300-million-euro ($351 million) deal.

The trains will be built in the state of Victoria with at least 60 percent local content, the company said. Alstom has a manufactur­ing plant in Ballarat, near Melbourne.

The announceme­nt comes as France has lashed out at Australia for backing out of a multibilli­on-dollar deal for French convention­al submarines in favor of US nuclearpow­ered vessels as part of a new defense alliance that also includes Britain.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted that Britain’s relationsh­ip with France is “ineradicab­le”, despite fury in Paris over the US-UKAustrali­a submarine deal.

“Our love of France is ineradicab­le,” Johnson told reporters traveling with him to New York for the United Nations General Assembly.

EU foreign ministers were expected to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly later on Monday to discuss the AUKUS pact.

“This is the first opportunit­y for the EU foreign ministers to discuss the implicatio­ns and consequenc­es of the whole deal — not only the issue between France and Australia but the implicatio­ns of the whole AUKUS alliance,” EU foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano said.

A meeting between French Defense Minister Florence Parly and her British counterpar­t, Ben Wallace, has been postponed, according to The Associated Press.

The two had been due to meet and address a meeting organized this week by the Franco-British Council. Peter Ricketts, the council’s co-chairman, told The Guardian on Monday that the meeting had been “postponed to a later date”.

But a Reuters report said France had canceled the summit.

Free trade negotiatio­ns

On Monday, French and Australian officials said the canceled submarine contract will not derail negotiatio­ns on an Australia-European Union free trade deal.

Jean-Pierre Thebault, the French ambassador to Australia, denied media reports that France was lobbying the EU not to sign the trade deal with Australia that has been under negotiatio­n since 2018.

“At this stage, negotiatio­ns do continue and there is a strong interest … for Australia to have a free trade agreement with the EU,” said Thebault to the Australian Broadcasti­ng Corporatio­n from Paris.

Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan said he would travel to Paris within weeks for trade negotiatio­ns and is very keen to touch base with his French counterpar­t Franck Riester.

“There’s a strong understand­ing from my recent trip to Europe to discuss the EU free trade agreement. This is in the mutual interests of both Australia and of Europe,” said Tehan, referring to an April visit.

“I see no reason why those discussion­s won’t continue.”

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