Australia’s trade minister said on Friday the European Union has postponed the next round of talks on a potential free trade deal for a second time, amid simmering anger over Canberra’s decision to cancel a $40 billion contract with France.
EU officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
Australia in September cancelled a deal with France’s Naval Group to build a fleet of conventional submarines and will instead build at least eight nuclear-powered submarines with U.S. and British technology, after striking a trilateral security partnership called AUKUS with those two countries.
The cancellation has angered France, which accused both Australia and the United States of stabbing it in the back. Paris recalled its ambassadors from both Canberra and Washington.
In solidarity with France, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has questioned whether the bloc could strike a trade deal with Australia.
Australian trade minister Dan Tehan said that for the second time this month, the 12th round of talks with the EU had been postponed, this time until February 2022. The talks were previously put off by a month to November.
“The European Union have advised the Australian government that Round 12 of the FTA negotiations will now take place in February,” Tehan said in a statement to Reuters.
The development comes just weeks after Tehan told Reuters he expected to finalise a free trade agreement with the EU by the end of next year.
Australia has sought to mend relations with the EU and France in recent weeks, appointing a senior aide to Prime Minister Scott Morrison as envoy to the 27-nation bloc.
The French ambassador to Australia returned this week to Canberra where he has said he intends to evaluate Australia’s stated commitment to repairing ties.