Peak wool representative body, WoolProducers Australia (WPA), has welcomed the announcement from Trade Minister Simon Birmingham last week that that the formal negotiations on the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement (A-UK FTA) have commenced.
With the economic effects of COVID-19 resulting in significant decreases in consumer spending on apparel, securing important trade agreements is a step forward for Australian wool when the global economy begins its recovery.
WoolProducers President Mr Ed Storey said wool was the first export from Australia to the United Kingdom back in 1807, so as an industry we have a longstanding relationship with the United Kingdom and that's something to be proud of.
"But we must be equally as proud of the production systems and standards that Australian woolgrowers work in and uphold to produce this wonderful, natural and sustainable fibre," Mr Storey said.
"It is imperative in any trade negotiations that our production standards across animal welfare, antimicrobial use, environmental practices, and sustainability cannot be compromised for the sake of concluding a trade agreement. Our standards are underpinned by regulations that are informed by world-class science, and this must be acknowledged."
WoolProducers has already been in discussions with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment regarding the A-UK FTA and is continuing to provide information Australian wool to assist these negotiations.
Earlier this year, WoolProducers also welcomed the opportunity to meet with a delegation of British farmers and policy staff when they visited Australia in March.
"We are in a very fortunate position that Australian wool doesn't really compete with British wool," Mr Storey said.
"They are very different products, and this was a key takeaway for both the British and Australian delegates when we met.
"So, while we already enjoy relatively low, if not zero tariffs and adequate quotas for entry to the United Kingdom, we expect this will remain without any non-tariff barriers under the A-UK FTA."
The Northern Hemisphere is the key market for Australian wool, and WoolProducers acknowledges the opportunities that the AUK FTA will present to bolster trade between the countries.
This is particularly important with increasing consumer awareness of the eco-credentials of wool.
Mr Storey said it makes sense for trade agreements to favour natural fibres such as wool as they provide a wholistic approach to overcoming some of the environmental issues we need to tackle across the globe.
"Consumers are shifting away from fast fashion as they learn of the negative impacts it has on the environment, like microplastics polluting our oceans," he said.
"We have a great product that can lessen these impacts, and free trade agreements support this as they expand and strengthen our market access."
WoolProducers will be making a submission to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade consultation on the A-UK FTA, which will detail our policy asks across a range of issues that may be included in the agreement.