Trade Minister Dan Tehan snubbed over subs by French counterpart

Federal Trade Minister Dan Tehan says he has extended an open invitation to meet with his French counterpart after his offer was formally rejected amid the diplomatic fallout over Australia’s decision to tear up its submarine deal with France.

In another sign of the French government’s white hot fury over Australia’s action, Trade Minister Franck Rieste has refused to meet with Mr Tehan when he travels to Paris next week for an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development meeting and the 12th round of negotiations of the EU-Australia trade agreement.

Mr Tehan said that he learned of the rejection on Friday night and contacted Australia’s ambassador in Paris, Gillian Bird, to pass on the message that the invitation remained an open one.

“I said to her, please reassure the French that I am very keen to sit down with them and have a discussion about the decision that was taken with regards to submarines and that remains an argument,” Mr Tehan said on Saturday.

News agency Reuters reported on Friday night an official from Mr Rieste’s office had issued a statement saying the meeting would not take place.

“We won’t follow up the Australian minister’s request for a meeting. We can’t go on as if it was business as usual,” the French official said.

Mr Tehan said he understood France’s disappointment, but he wanted the opportunity to explain why the move was “absolutely in Australia’s national interest”.

“The decision that was taken [was] in our national interest, which was about protecting our sovereignty about our security, and I would like to be able to sit down and work through that with my counterpart,” he said.

France recalled its ambassador to Australia, Jean-Pierre Thebault, last week after the Australia announced it had struck a deal with the US and UK to build a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines. The AUKUS alliance torpedoed the $90 billion deal with French submarine maker Naval Group that the Turnbull government struck in 2016, infuriating French President Emmanuel Macron.

The French government has maintained that they were given no warning that Australia was poised to abandon the deal, with Mr Thebault accusing the federal government of engaging in “lies and treason” for 18 months behind his nation’s back. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said he informed Mr Macron about the deal about 8pm or 8.30pm the day before the announcement.

But Mr Morrison revealed on Saturday that he also spoken with the leaders of both India and Japan in advance about Australia’s new submarine defence strategy because they were “Quad partners”.

“I had the opportunity to speak with both Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Suga before we made the announcement about the AUKUS arrangement and where we were proceeding on nuclear submarines,” Mr Morrison said at the White House after the first in-person Quad summit with Nerendra Modi, Yoshihide Suga and President Joe Biden.

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