Trade Minister Dan Tehan will embark on a rare overseas jaunt in a bid to secure a greater supply of coronavirus vaccines and promote trade amid increasingly hostile relations with China.
The cabinet figure will fly out to Europe followed by the UK on Thursday for his first international trip in the position, saying “vaccine diplomacy” will be high on the agenda.
He will meet counterparts from the UK and the European Union, which has frustrated Canberra by restricting vaccine exports.
Australia’s initial vaccine supply was heavily reliant on exports from the bloc, but Scott Morrison claimed last week 3.1 million contracted doses had not arrived.
Mr Tehan said his “first port of call” would be a meeting with World Trade Organisation director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who he framed as a potential ally.
“I’ll be talking to her about vaccines and export restrictions that have been put in place. She’s been very outspoken against those,” he said.
Mr Tehan will also be tasked with continuing negotiations for the Free Trade Agreement to encourage investment in Australian produce as diplomatic relations with China appears increasingly futile.
The Asian superpower has slapped various tariffs, bans and other restrictions on Australian good in recent months including barley, meat, seafood and wine, making alternative export options crucial.
“Free Trade Agreements with the EU and UK would give Australian producers preferential access to more than 500 million consumers and that will translate to more jobs, growth, economic and trade opportunities, and innovation in Australia,” Mr Tehan said.
“Our negotiations will uphold our commitment to rules-based trade and investment liberalisation while protecting our national interest.
“We are advancing negotiations with the EU and UK as we seek to finalise these agreements.”