The selection of Lord Botham, better known as ‘Beefy’, as trade envoy to Australia is applauded Down Under.
Australia has endured a few beatings and verbal barbs over the years from the legendary all-rounder.
He is said to have once described Aussies as “big and empty – just like the country.”
Star Power: Ian Botham with Boris Johnson. The former England cricketer has now been appointed Trade Envoy to Australia
But the ‘Beefy Baron’, as The Sydney Morning Herald described him on his appointment this week, is widely admired here, albeit reluctantly.
The 65-year-old may have donned the scarlet and ermine robes of the House of Lords and is drinking more expensive Shiraz than in his playing splendor.
But his reckless punch, combative nature and colorful antics off the pitch mean that he’s still widely seen here as a ‘larrikin’ – or sympathetic villain – unfortunate enough to be born in the wrong country.
The big question now is whether Beefy can actually help the UK sell more whisky, wine or cars to the Aussies when the free trade agreement comes into effect next year.
Or is his appointment no more than a PR beep from the government?
Keith Mugford, owner of Moss Wood, a premium winemaker in Margaret River, said Botham could have a positive impact.
“We are sad to see how well he played cricket against us, but he is much loved here so people will be happy to sit down with him at the table,” he said.
But Mugford believes the odds are in Australia’s favor when it comes to wine.
While the UK is Australia’s fifth largest trading partner, Australia barely makes it into the UK’s top 20. Pictured: Sydney Harbour
While EU tariffs on wine exports are equivalent to just 12 pence for a regular bottle, he is confident the deal will allow him and other wine producers to sell more in the UK.
It is not yet known whether the British can sell more wine to the Australians.
“If you come to Australia with good wine, it will sell,” Mugford said. ‘The French and Italians sell a lot of wine here, so there’s no reason Australians shouldn’t buy British wine. The difficulty will be to overcome Australia’s preconceived notions about the quality of British wine.’
It is important not to exaggerate the role of trade envoys, who are essentially unpaid schmoozers.
They are usually MPs appointed by the British Prime Minister from both houses of Parliament and across the political spectrum.
Prince Andrew, trade envoy for years before his dramatic fall from grace, is a notable exception.
Sam Lowe, a research fellow at the Center for European Reform, described the job dismissively as “going abroad every now and then to chat up the UK and UK businesses, and to make backbenchers feel special. That is it.’
But the right trade envoy can exert influence. Many business deals are still closed over a drunken lunch or dinner, rather than in the boardroom.
Match winner: Botham take on the Aussies at Headingley in 1981 as he sent England to a memorable Ashes win
It’s not hard to imagine Australian cricket-loving chief executives queuing up for an audience and a few glasses of wine with Botham, who has the advantage of having first-hand experience of doing business in Australia, and with vineyards across the country to create its own eponymous wine brand.
While much of it comes from Australia, it is shipped to the UK and bottled under the Botham label. Most of it is sold in UK supermarkets, although it is also available in Australia.
This means he has skin in the game. Though not known for his diplomacy, Botham recently proved himself to be an effective political operator.
A high-profile Brexiteer, his star power was harnessed by Boris Johnson during the EU referendum campaign, particularly in the north, when the two men performed together at an event in County Durham.
Botham was rewarded with a peerage. But for all its persuasiveness, some here believe that even Beefy will struggle to convince Aussies to buy more British goods.
Botham has experience doing business in Australia and has worked with vineyards to launch his own wine brand
Trevor Whittington, chief executive of the Western Australian Farmers’ Federation, said: ‘Botham is widely recognized as one of the legends of British cricket, as are our legends.
“His appointment is a great opportunity to break the old-fashioned trade negotiations conducted by bureaucrats in smoky rooms where not much happens.
“But besides whiskey I don’t know what Britain can sell us that we don’t make here.”
Australia arguably has much more to gain from the FTA than the UK.
This is partly because Australian import tariffs are already low.
And while the UK is Australia’s fifth largest trading partner, Australia barely makes it into the UK’s top 20.
British farmers have warned Britain could be flooded with cheap beef from Australia once the trade deal comes into effect.
But their Australian counterparts insist there’s little point in flying their meat around the world if they achieve record prices by selling it domestically and to closer markets in Asia and the Middle East.
According to the UK government, the free trade agreement will remove tariffs on £4.3 billion of goods exported to Australia and make it “cheaper to sell iconic products such as cars, Scotch whiskey and ceramics”.
But the economic boost is expected to be minimal, just 0.2 percent of GDP.
Despite all the fanfare, the pact with Australia is really seen by Boris Johnson as a stepping stone to bigger, more lucrative deals around the world, including in Asia and the US.
Since the first free trade agreement was concluded after Britain’s departure from the EU, it also has a symbolic meaning.
The question is whether joining Britain’s most famous cricket Brexit is just a publicity stunt, or whether Botham can really boost trade.
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