Katina Curtis, AAP Senior Political Writer
(Australian Associated Press)
Scott Morrison might have been on the sidelines of the G7 but he had a prime view of the international issues that buffet Australia’s economy and shape our partnerships.
The prime minister departs the summit at the French seaside town of Biarritz confident of a speedy trade deal with Britain, hopeful about a new ceasefire in the US-China trade spat, and enthused by a surprising level of interest in Australia’s new space agency.
And he only had to withstand modest sledging about Australia’s nail-biting loss to England in the third Ashes test.
French President Emmanuel Macron invited Australia to be an observer at the elite grouping, which comprises France, the UK, Italy, Germany, the US, Canada and Japan.
“People are noticing what Australia is doing and they want us to be part of what’s happening at this level,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Biarritz as the summit came to a close on Monday afternoon (early Tuesday morning AEST).
“I was particularly pleased that Australia’s actions on establishing the national space agency … in Adelaide has actually been noticed and I’m thrilled about that.”
The space agency came up during meetings with new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and outgoing Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who both indicated their countries were keen to team up with Australia on extraterrestrial matters.
Mr Johnson left quite an impression on Mr Morrison at their 40-minute meeting, with the Australian saying it had been a “very lively affair”.
“I very much enjoyed our meeting, let’s just say that,” he told reporters with a chuckle.
“We’re gonna have a great relationship. Despite his cricket sledging, which was very modest.”
The talk was not just about cricket though, with the pair also touching on the situation in Hong Kong, Britain’s increased presence in the Pacific, and Australia’s plans to join the UK and US in a military mission in waters south of Iran.
But it was trade matters that dominated.
Mr Morrison reiterated that Australia stood ready to kick off a bilateral trade deal with Britain as soon as it leaves the European Union, slated for the end of October, and told reporters he thinks an agreement could be struck within a year.
The much bigger issue of the US-China trade row cast a shadow over the G7 talks, as it has at multilateral summits over the past year.
US President Donald Trump announced a further escalation of tariffs just ahead of travelling to France.
But on Monday, he told reporters China was ready to return to the table and there had been high-level discussions overnight with a series of phone calls.
China disputed this had occurred.
“I think they want to make a deal very badly. I think that was elevated last night,” Mr Trump said.
Mr Morrison said he was encouraged if the two economic giants were speaking again.
“But I’m also mindful that we’ve been here before,” he said, referring to the detente struck just eight weeks ago at the G20.
He also discussed the ongoing unrest in Hong Kong with Mr Johnson and Canadian leader Justin Trudeau.
All three countries have a significant number of expatriates living in Hong Kong.
“I think the key is all of us working together to seek to de-escalate the situation and where we have opportunities to do that, then we will take those opportunities,” he said.
“We’re watching this very close and we’re swapping notes.”
The G7 leaders used their brief post-summit joint statement to reaffirm the existence and importance of the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 on Hong Kong and call for violence to be avoided.