Australia and the UK are holding “preliminary discussions” about a post-Brexit trade deal.
Australian trade minister Steven Ciobo said the “strong historical bonds” between the two countries meant talks could be completed “quite quickly”.
But with the UK unable to sign deals while still in the European Union, he said an agreement was at least two-and-a-half years away. A separate deal between Australia and the EU is at a more advanced stage.
The government does not plan to begin the formal two-year Brexit process by triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty until the start of next year at the earliest.
Brexit Secretary David Davis has predicted a “round of global trade deals” will be “fully negotiated” within 12 to 24 months, coming into force when the UK leaves the EU.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme after meeting UK International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, Mr Ciobo said the UK-Australia deal could only happen “when the time is right”, adding that there had been “good alignment” between the two sides.
“The timing around that will in many respects be dictated by the UK,” he said.
“The discussions with the EU, the nature of those, the length of them is all yet to be determined.”
Based on the UK triggering the two-year long Article 50 process of leaving the EU in the first half of 2017, he said such a deal would be “at least two and a half years off”.
Formal negotiations would have to wait until Brexit had been completed, but Ciobo said “preliminary discussions around what a post-Brexit Australia-UK trade deal might look like” were taking place already.
Australia would be “well and truly engrossed in negotiations” over its on-going deal with the EU in the meantime, with formal talks due to begin next year, he said.
The UK has no trained trade negotiators of its own, because it cannot sign deals while an EU member – and Mr Ciobo said he had offered to loan Australian experts to the UK for the talks.
Major exports from Australia to the UK include lead, gold, alcoholic beverages and pearls and gems.
Going the other way, according to government figures from 2014, the UK’s top exports to Australia include medicines and pharmaceuticals, scientific instruments, clothing accessories and electrical machinery.
After their meeting in London, Fox and Ciobo agreed that officials would meet twice a year to discuss the parameters of what both sides said they hoped would be an “ambitious and comprehensive” deal.
In a joint statement, they announced the creation of a working group to discuss areas of mutual co-operation including future investment opportunities.
The working group’s first meeting will be in Australia in January.
As well as considering bilateral links, it will look at relevant international trade standards including World Trade Organization rules.
“We want the working group to advance an agenda that will ensure the expeditious transition to free trade agreement negotiations when the UK has formally completed its negotiations to exit the EU,” the two men said.
Speaking after meeting UK Prime Minister Theresa May at the G20 summit in China, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he wanted to strike an early deal with the UK once it had left the EU.
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