The United Kingdom acceded to the European Economic Community in 1973 beginning a new focus for Australian exporters. The formation of the European Union in 1992 further reduced opportunities for export to Europe and led to an increased focus on Asian markets.
When Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973, it was forced to sever the economic ties with Commonwealth countries. Australia, like other Commonwealth nations, then faced new European trade protections. For example, Danish butter replaced Australian in Britain’s supermarkets. In consequence, Australian butter exports dropped by more than 90 per cent. Apple exports declined from 86,000 tonnes in 1975 to 27, 000 tonnes in 1990. Canned and dried fruits also suffered a decline.
Australia had established an official diplomatic mission in Brussels, appointing the first Ambassador to the European Economic Community in 1962. Disagreements over market tariffs and agricultural subsidies were an ongoing issue. At that time the EEC provided export subsidies for the members’ agricultural products and placed import restrictions on products from outside its borders. There was concern that the EEC was dumping excess produce on world markets, protected by subsidies.
While the first 30 years of the relationship between Australia and Europe were defined by disagreement over the Common Agricultural Policy a new agreement in 2008 placed the relationship on a new footing. The European Union was to become Australia’s largest trading partner. The principal exports to the EU in 2016 were gold, coal, oil seeds and oil-rich fruits, wine and lead. Agricultural products accounted for 15 per cent of the total export trade.
Upon the UK’s exit from the European Union in 2020, a new round of trade negotiations sought to achieve preferred status in Britain for Australian exports.