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Australia-EU free trade breakdown another setback for eyewear importers

The Optical Distributors and Manufacturers Association (ODMA) is disappointed free trade negotiations between Australia and the European Union (EU) have broken down, in another setback for eyewear wholesalers who were hopeful a deal could be struck to remove a new 5% border tax on frames imported from the bloc.

“We are all shocked that talks have come to such a sudden halt and this was totally unexpected,” ODMA CEO Ms Amanda Trotman said.

Amanda Trotman, ODMA.

“With appeal processes and prior lobbying already undertaken by ODMA, there are not obvious new approaches to try however ODMA is committed to continue to advocate for the removal of the tariffs on spectacle frames.

“ODMA’s immediate action that will be taken is to again write to the Australia Border Force (ABF), explaining what a ridiculous situation this is, and we will copy in the Home Affairs Minister and the Shadow Affairs Ministers this time in the hope they will be interested and take any positive actions available to them to resolve the matter.”

On 30 October, Federal Trade Minister Mr Don Farrell released a short statement announcing that he recently flew to Osaka, Japan, with intentions to finalise a free trade agreement with the EU and executive vice president Mr Valdis Dombrovskis. But Australia reportedly turned down the deal due to issues over agricultural market access for Australia.

The vast majority of optical frames sold in Australia are imported, with most of these from the EU. Many eyewear importers were pinning their hopes to a free trade agreement with the world’s largest trading bloc after the ABF blindsided the industry in May 2022 by revoking a tariff concession order (TCO) on acetate eyewear. A year later, this was extended to metal frames.

With almost immediate effect, it meant eyewear wholesalers importing product from Europe – for which there is no free trade agreement – needed to pay a 5% duty rate at the border, which they were previously exempt from.

The process was triggered after Port Macquarie eyewear manufacturer Optex Australia successfully sought revocation of the TCOs Australian eyewear importers have enjoyed for around two decades. This is because TCO’s are intended for products where there are no known Australian manufacturers of products that are substitutable for the imported goods.

Because Optex produces eyewear in Australia, the TCO was removed, regardless of volume and how many units it can produce to serve the industry.

Trotman said ODMA would now also consider a potential PR media campaign in daily newspapers in an attempt to gaining traction with the government in 2024.

“ODMA will reach out to collaborative optical associations to see if they have any channels that can also be utilised,” she said.

Trotman encouraged optical frame suppliers to provide evidence directly to her of the impact this is having on their businesses, both administratively and financially. This would be used as part of a body of evidence to assist in any future advocacy.

Information can be sent to amanda@odma.com.au.

More reading

Further tariff pain for eyewear frame distributors comes at a ‘difficult’ time

Manufacturer explains why it sought controversial revocation of eyewear tariff concession

ODMA vows to continue tariff concession fight


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