France and Australia agree submarines row will not halt trade deal

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French and Australian officials have said France’s anger over a cancelled submarine contract will not derail negotiations on an Australia-European Union free trade deal.

Paris withdrew its ambassadors to the US and Australia after US President Joe Biden revealed last week a new tripartite alliance including Australia and the UK that would allow Australia to amass a fleet of at least eight nuclear-powered submarines.

The deal sunk a 90 billion Australian dollar (£47 billion), 35-year contract for French state majority-owned Naval Group to provide 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines for Australia.

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

Jean-Pierre Thebault
France’s ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault (AP)

Such a deal “has the potential to deliver a huge amount of benefits for Australia”, Mr Thebault added.

Australian trade minister Dan Tehan said he would travel to Paris within weeks for trade negations and was “very keen to touch base with” 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,” Mr Tehan said, referring to an April visit.

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

French President Emmanuel Macron will speak in the coming days with Mr Biden in their first contact since the diplomatic crisis erupted.

Emmanuel Macron
Emmanuel Macron (Michel Euler/AP)

“This is all about… ensuring that Australia’s sovereign interests will be put first to ensure that Australians here can live peacefully with the many others in our region, because that’s what we desire as a peaceful and free nation,” Mr Morrison said.

Deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce, who is acting prime minister in Mr Morrison’s absence, said his country had proven its support for France’s freedom through Australian lives lost in two world wars.

“Australia doesn’t need to prove their affinity and their affection and their resolute desire to look after the liberty and the freedom and the equality of France,” Mr Joyce said.

“I can understand how the French are upset and we obviously want this to pass and us to work closely again. But let’s remember, tens of thousands of Australians died on French soil over two world wars protecting France in France, and protecting France from the enemy that was going to invade France,” he said.

French ambassador to the US Philippe Etienne said bilateral relations were strained but not severed by the submarine deal.

“It’s not a rupture, but the moment was serious enough to make this kind of diplomatic gesture,” he told French radio RTL.

“We in Europe need the Americans, but the Americans also have the desire to continue working with us,” he said.

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