Prime Minister Scott Morrison has arrived in the United Kingdom as a representative of one of four guest countries invited to the G7 summit.
“This is a very important place for Australia to be today as we touch down here in the United Kingdom to join the G7-plus dialogue,” Mr Morrison said after arriving at RAF airport Brize Norton on Friday morning (Friday evening AEST) after Nine News reported heavy fog cancelled plans for him to land at a Cornwall airport.
“This is the third occasion that we’ve had the privilege to be invited to be part of these discussions and there is a lot on this agenda for Australia,” he said.
The G7 group of wealthy democracies – the UK, United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan – have invited the leaders of Australia, South Korea, South Africa and India to take part.
“There has never been a more important time for Australia to be sitting around such a table,” Mr Morrison said.
“Dealing with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the recession that it has caused and the recovery that we are building, particularly at home in Australia, with our economy being bigger today than it was before the pandemic hit.”
He said the summit would help ensure “the rules-based order that protects our trade but also protects our seas, and protects the way that countries can live and work together in a positive way all around the world”.
Australia is also on the cusp of inking a free trade deal with the UK, with officials hoping to advance progress as Mr Morrison meets UK PM Boris Johnson after the G7 concludes on Sunday.
Farmers’ access to Britain has been a key sticking point in negotiations with UK agriculture groups worried about Australian beef and lamb flooding the market.
Australia has rubbished the claim, while the National Farmers’ Federation estimates 0.15 per cent of all beef exports go to the UK.
Finance Minister Simon Birmingham, who launched negotiations when he held the trade portfolio, signalled a deal was close.
“We are very, very close to an in-principle agreement around the terms of a free trade agreement between Australian and the United Kingdom being settled,” he told Sky News on Friday.
Senator Birmingham said Australia viewed agricultural market access as crucial to any trade deal.
“What we’re looking for there is to have as open a market as is absolutely possible for Australian goods to enter as free from tariffs and as free from quotas,” he said.
At the G7 summit, Mr Morrison will sit down with other world leaders and attend sessions on health, the economy and climate change over the course of the weekend.
He is expected to meet US President Joe Biden, Japanese leader Yoshihide Suga and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in.
While Mr Morrison is not expected to make any new commitments on climate, Australia is facing calls to support carbon tariffs on emissions-intensive imports.
However, the prime minister considers any form of carbon tariff to be against Australia’s national interest.
Mr Morrison is keen to focus on preparedness for future pandemics, business-led growth, free and fair trade and the international rules-based order.
Ahead of the conference, the prime minister held a face-to-face meeting with Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong.
Singapore is expected to be the second country after New Zealand to establish a quarantine-free travel bubble with Australia but a new arrangement remains months away.
The Singaporean prime minister indicated the travel bubble would not be approved until the majority of populations in both countries had been vaccinated.
Australia lags behind Singapore in the vaccination process, having fully immunised less than three per cent of the adult population.
Just under half the 4.7 million population in Singapore has been fully vaccinated with both doses.