UK downplays Tehan criticism before talks

The UK has played down a newspaper report in which an unnamed British government source criticised Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan as being "inexperienced" and making slow progress with trade talks.

British Trade Secretary Liz Truss sought to limit the damage after the Telegraph report, promising Mr Tehan he would get a warm welcome in London for upcoming talks.

Tehan is due to arrive this week to discuss a trade deal that Britain is pursuing as one of the pillars of its post-Brexit strategy to build stronger commercial and diplomatic links in the Indo-Pacific region.

The Telegraph cited a source close to Ms Truss complaining of slow progress in the talks, calling Mr Tehan inexperienced and saying: "He needs to show that he can play at this level."

"She (Ms Truss) plans to sit him down in the Locarno Room (in the foreign office) in an uncomfortable chair, so he has to deal with her directly for nine hours," the report quoted the source as saying.

A spokesperson for Mr Tehan had no comment.

Asked about the Telegraph report, a British trade department official said the comments were "over the top" and that while Britain was concerned at the pace of talks, they hoped significant progress could be made during Mr Tehan's visit.

"The Australians are really, really close mates of ours and there's a lot of mutual respect between Liz and Dan," the official said.

"Dan's been around the block and is pretty experienced so he will know not to read too much into it."

Ms Truss later said in a statement that she was "looking forward to giving Minister Tehan a warm welcome and building on the good progress we have already made".

"We want a gold standard agreement that boosts exports, drives investment, supports jobs, and breaks new ground in modern areas like services and digital trade," she said.

The official said the UK government was looking for movement from Australia on the services and investment sections of the deal and that while a breakthrough could allow an agreement in principle to be reached within days, it was more likely to take weeks to finalise the whole deal.

Britain has estimated a trade deal with Australia could add 500 million pounds ($A900 million) to UK economic output over the long run and is confident that a deal can be completed in the first half of 2021.

Mr Tehan is currently in Europe for talks with leaders from the UK, Germany, France and Belgium and high on the agenda is fast-tracking supplies of COVID-19 vaccines ordered by Australia.

Reuters/AAP

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