Terrorism, trade, cooperation dominate AUKMIN talks

This year’s talks have focused on counter terrorism, trade ties and closer geographic cooperation.

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They were also a chance for British officials to explain what the future will look like — or so they hope — after Britain leaves the European Union.

Terrorism, trade and Brexit have been top of the agenda for the annual talks between Australia’s and Britain’s foreign and defence ministers.

After holding bilateral talks on day one, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and British foreign secretary Boris Johnson were joined by defence officials from both nations today.

Discussions were also believed to have touched on security and foreign affairs, as well as opportunities for Britain to expand its influence in Asia.

Sydney is the last stop on a diplomatic tour for Mr Johnson, following trips to Japan and New Zealand.

It has been an important chance for British officials to discuss their post-Brexit vision and begin laying the groundwork for a potential free-trade agreement with Australia.

The former London mayor says he is pleased with the progress made towards a future deal.

“As we go through the process of leaving the arrangements of the European Union, we are going to widen our horizons and work even more closely, and we have, today, reaffirmed our shared goal of concluding a free-trade agreement as soon as possible after we leave the EU.”

Ms Bishop has described Britain as an important ally in a changing world.

“We are seeing a level of uncertainty that we’ve not witnessed in a very long time. Therefore, it is more important than ever before for like-minded countries to find common cause in supporting that international rules-based order. Bilaterally and plurilaterally and multilaterally. And you could not find two more like-minded countries than Australia and the United Kingdom.”

Talks inevitably turned to terrorism, with both nations acknowledging the threat was now much closer to home, including the issue of returning foreign fighters.

Britain’s defence secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, says increased cooperation on security and intelligence will strengthen both countries’ defence capabilities.

He says that will better prepare them for an uncertain future.

“We believe that Australia, as an enhanced partner in NATO, can play a pivotal part in enhancing NATO’s understanding of the challenges that we share in the Indo-Pacific region. And, we believe that the Five Power* Defence Arrangements have a greater role, too, to play in building regional security, in increasing maritime security and helping to fight terrorism.”

Recent concerns over North Korea’s growing nuclear capabilities also prompted a stern warning from Australia’s defence minister, Marise Payne.

“The Foreign Minister has spoken at length on previous occasions in relation to our engagement in terms of sanctions and reinforcing our strong view of the application of sanctions and our extension of those just recently. That is an important message from not just Australia but from other members of the international community, and, out of our discussions today, we are as one in terms of our condemnation of the North Korean regime.”

A lucrative British tender to build Australia’s next fleet of warships was also believed to have been mentioned, with Spain and Italy competing against the British maker B-A-E.

It is the largest peacetime naval investment in Australia’s history.

Meanwhile, a joint leadership forum is planned for next year, involving leaders from across business, politics and the community.

The Australian High Commission in London will also hold an international workshop on trafficking and modern slavery next month.