LONDON (Dispatches) - Trade talks between Australia and the European Union have been postponed as a row with France over the so-called AUKUS security partnership deepens.
Last month, Canberra cancelled a $37bn deal with France to build a fleet of conventional submarines.
Instead, it will build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with U.S. and UK technology.
The decision angered Paris, which called the deal a “stab in the back” by the U.S. and Australia.
In fact, soon after the AUKUS agreement was announced, France recalled its ambassadors from both Canberra and Washington.
The ambassador to Washington will now return to his post, but it is not clear if the ambassador to Canberra will do the same.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has previously questioned whether the EU would be able to strike a trade deal with Australia, in solidarity with France.
But on Friday spokespeople for the Commission insisted it is not “punishing anybody”. The decision to delay the talks by a month took place a couple of days ago and would “allow us to prepare better”, they said, adding that it was not “unusual” to push back trade talks.
Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan declined to comment on what part, if any, the submarine deal had played in delaying negotiations but confirmed that the next round of talks, which were scheduled to start on 12 October, had been postponed until the following month.
“I will meet with my EU counterpart Valdis Dombrovskis next week to discuss the 12th negotiating round, which will now take place in November rather than October,” he said.
In June, after the last round of talks over a free trade deal, the European Commission said negotiations had “progressed in most areas of the future agreement”.
The next round of talks was expected to include a number of subjects including trade, investment and intellectual property rights.
The EU is Australia’s third-biggest trading partner, with trade in goods and services totalling almost $72bn last year.
Russia: AUKUS Pact Threatens Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime
Russia has voiced concern over the AUKUS defence deal between Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, warning the pact threatens global nuclear non-proliferation efforts.
Under the trilateral agreement for the Indo-Pacific region, announced last month, Australia will become only the second country after the UK to be given access to the U.S. nuclear technology to build nuclear-powered submarines.
Moscow said earlier this week it was seeking more information about AUKUS. On Friday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov admitted the Kremlin was uneasy over the deal.
Moscow is “concerned” about the partnership that will allow Australia “after 18 months of consultations and several years of attempts, to obtain nuclear-powered submarines in sufficient numbers to become one of the top five countries for this type of armaments”, Russia’s TASS news agency quoted Ryabkov as saying.