Australia and the European Union (EU) today opened negotiations on a treaty-level Framework Agreement.
Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said it is a significant milestone in the Australia-EU relationship.
"It opens a new phase of closer cooperation between Australia and the EU that better accommodates our broad interests and priorities," Mr Rudd said.
High Representative Ashton, who is in Canberra for the Australia-EU Ministerial Consultations, said the proposed Agreement not only recognises the value we place on the EU-Australia relationship, but also provides a firm basis for expanding our practical collaboration in areas such as foreign affairs and security, development assistance, climate change, research, science and education.
"The Agreement would give political expression to our commitment to build a stronger, forward-looking partnership," High Representative Ashton said.
The negotiations will begin this afternoon (31 October) with introductory Senior Officials' discussions and will continue over the coming months in several substantive rounds to be held in Brussels and Canberra. The shared goal is to conclude the negotiations in 2012.
Foreign Minister Rudd and High Representative Ashton also agreed to open negotiations on a separate Crisis Management Agreement.
"Recent events in North Africa and the Middle East have underlined the value in Australia and the EU cooperating closely in responding to international crises," High Representative Ashton said.
"The proposed Agreement will facilitate this cooperation, by making it easier for Australia to contribute to EU crisis management operations."
Foreign Minister Rudd and High Representative Ashton agreed on the first two Australia-EU delegated aid projects, in South Sudan - where the EU will deliver food-security assistance on Australia's behalf - and in Fiji, where Australia will deliver a component of the EU's assistance.
They underlined that this partnership would improve the effectiveness of aid delivery in Africa and the Pacific. Australia is the first non-European donor with which the EU has established delegated aid cooperation arrangements.
The Minister and High Representative welcomed the signature of a revised Passenger Name Record Agreement in Brussels on 29 September 2011 and its endorsement by the European Parliament on 27 October.
The Agreement provides for the transfer of passenger information on travellers between the EU and Australia, strengthening security in both jurisdictions.
"The new Agreement will be an essential element in Australia's border security system by assisting authorities in combatting terrorism and transnational crime, while ensuring effective protection of EU-sourced passenger data," Mr Rudd said.
High Representative Ashton said, "This Agreement strikes the right balance between the need to maximise air travel security and to prevent terrorist offences, on the one hand, and the safeguarding of the right of our citizens to protection of their personal records, on the other."
The Minister and High Representative also discussed a range of regional and international issues, including the G20, global and regional economic challenges, nuclear non-proliferation, piracy, and developments in East Asia, the Pacific, the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia.
High Representative Ashton's visit to Australia as a Guest of Government follows the visit by European Commission President Barroso in September 2011.
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