Rail industry news (Australia, New Zealand), Events

Free trade deal win for both sides

The rail industries in the UK and Australia are benefitting  from the UK/AUS Free Trade Agreement (A-UKFTA), which has eliminated tariffs on more than 99 per cent of Australian goods exports to the UK.

Speaking at AusRAIL PLUS, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Exports) and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the United Kingdom, Lord Malcolm Offord, said  Australia’s services companies and professionals had gained from being able to operate more easily in the UK market, supporting the mutual recognition of professional qualifications and greater certainty for skilled professionals entering the UK. 

Attending the conference with a delegation of UK rail businesses, he said the deal contained commercially significant commitments that created new export opportunities and reduced input costs for business, and strengthend trade diversification.

“The UK Department of Business and Trade is our government’s engine for economic growth, and our job basically is to help businesses do their job to connect domestic and international markets and great opportunities of investment, export and growth,” he said. 

“We’ll be talking a lot about the free trade agreements that we are now assigning around the world. It’s something that you have a lot of experience with in Australia, but it’s something we’ve had to relearn after 40 years of being inside the EU.

“We now have 73 FTAs in total, of which 65 or so were more about deals from the EU as we came out of Brexit.

“The EU agreements were quite basic, mostly concentrated on goods, not very digital, not very green. And what we’re doing now is upgrading these FTAs to make them modern and progressive. 

“And the best example of that is the Australia deal, which is what we call a from-scratch agreement that covers a full range of services, goods and digital.”

Lord Offord said there were obvious close links between the two nations.

“So much shared history and culture, and we continue to benefit from mutual cooperation, values of common language and much more besides. 

“Given these rich ties, it’s natural that a deal with Australia was amongst our first free trade agreements. The deal works for both UK and Australia, with the lifting of tariffs and losing red tape. It will boost competition and help spark new ideas and innovations.”

Lord Offord said one of the key features of the FTA was the mobility clause, which was a boost to the workforce.

“We’ve always had a great tradition of young Brits and Aussies in their 20s coming back and forward between our countries,” he said. 

“We see them mostly in the bars of Edinburgh and London, but now we’ve got a very different concept of young people being able to further their careers in their 30s.”

From January 31, 2024, Australians up to 35 years of age were able to apply for working holidays in the UK and stay for a maximum of three years. Similarly, from July 2023, UK citizens up to 35 years of age were able to apply for a working holiday visa, and from July 2024, be granted up to three working holiday visas without the requirement to undertake any ‘specified work’.

“If we consider the industries that the 21st century are going to be defined by, for example renewable energy and creative industries like manufacturing, the opportunity is strong for our young people now coming out of schools and universities to get high-skilled jobs in those new areas,” Lord Offord said. 

“It is really exciting for them and we want the collaboration between both countries to flow because they’re the ones that are going to solve the problems in the future.”

Lord Offord clarified what the FTA meant specifically for the rail sector.

“It means you can export rail infrastructure consultancy and professional services without export tariffs, while benefit from even easier business, travel and much reduced red tape in both directions,” he said.

“The UK is the birthplace of railway systems and has been the at the forefront of world innovation over 200 years. But are we certainly not sitting on our laurels and today we’re home to cutting edge rail technologies and services, as well as world leading low-carbon systems … such as the Elizabeth line, which spans London and the SE.

“The UK also boasts the Rail Research and Innovation Network, an organisation at the forefront of advanced world leading research into rolling stock infrastructure, testing facilities and digital systems. We also have expertise in monitoring, maintaining and upgrading rail infrastructure and franchising concessions and public private partnerships.

“And we have fostered an open and competitive marketplace, driving new product and service innovation, a viable quality which we can share and export.

“We’re also making headway towards having a fully electric fleet and reaching our net zero goals. Our network is currently about 38 per cent electrified at this point. “

Lord Offord noted that the respective sectors of each country were already working together.

“In addition, UK companies already have an excellent track record in delivering contracts with major Australian infrastructure projects,” he said. 

“For example, design work on Sydney’s Central Station with UK architect John McAslan and Partners, and delivery and integration of Sydney Trains’ major digital systems upgrade over the next decade.

“The UK companies stand ready to partner with Australian counterparts, bringing technology and capability to your infrastructure pipeline and playing their part in your $154 billion rail industry.”