News

Australian border to reopen for first time in pandemic

…EU trade talks delayed as Aukus row deepens

Australia will reopen its international border from November, giving long-awaited freedoms to vaccinated citizens and their relatives.

Since March 2020, Australia has had some of the world’s strictest border rules – even banning its own people from leaving the country.

The policy has been praised for helping to suppress Covid, but it has also controversially separated families, reports the BBC.

“It’s time to give Australians their lives back,” PM Scott Morrison said.

People would be eligible to travel when their state’s vaccination rate hit 80%, he told a press briefing on Friday.

Travel would not immediately be open to foreigners, but the government said it was working “towards welcoming tourists back to our shores”.

At present, people can leave Australia only for exceptional reasons such as essential work or visiting a dying relative.

Entry is permitted for citizens and others with exemptions, but there are tight caps on arrival numbers. This has left tens of thousands stranded overseas.

Media caption,This family made it back to Australia but was initially banned from seeing their dying parent in Queensland

On Friday, Morrison said Australia’s mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine – which costs each traveller A$3,000 ($1,600; $2,100) – would be phased out.

It will be replaced by seven days of home quarantine for vaccinated travellers. When unvaccinated travellers are later given permission to enter, they must do 14 days.

Demand for flights is expected to be high and airlines have already warned of delays in resuming services.

Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra are currently in lockdown due to outbreaks of the virus.

That has helped prompt a surge in the vaccine uptake in recent months.

New South Wales – which includes Sydney – is on track to be first state to cross the 80% threshold, in a few weeks.

But some states have managed to maintain Covid rates of or near zero, shutting their borders to states with infections.

Two such states – Queensland and Western Australia – have threatened to keep their borders closed until vaccine rates are even higher.

Meanwhile, Trade talks between Australia and the European Union have been postponed as a row with France over the so-called Aukus security partnership deepens.

Last month, Canberra cancelled a $37bn ($27.5bn) deal with France to build a fleet of conventional submarines.

Instead, it will build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with US and UK technology.

The decision angered Paris, which called the deal a “stab in the back” by the US and Australia.

In fact, soon after the Aukus agreement was announced, France recalled its ambassadors from both Canberra and Washington.

The ambassador to Washington will now return to his post, but it is not clear if the ambassador to Canberra will do the same.

In solidarity with France, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen has questioned whether the EU would be able to strike a trade deal with Australia.

Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan declined to comment on what part, if any, the submarine deal had played in delaying negotiations but confirmed that the next round of talks, which were scheduled to start on 12 October, had been postponed until the following month.

“I will meet with my EU counterpart Valdis Dombrovskis next week to discuss the 12th negotiating round, which will now take place in November rather than October,” he said.

In June, after the last round of talks over a free trade deal, the European Commission said negotiations had “progressed in most areas of the future agreement”.

The next round of talks was expected to include a number of subjects including trade, investment and intellectual property rights.

The EU is Australia’s third-biggest trading partner, with trade in goods and services totalling almost $72bn last year.

 

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