Reuters International

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop speaks before attendees during the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N. Headquarters in New York, September 29, 2015. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

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SYDNEY (Reuters) - The former British colony of Australia wants Britain to stay in the European Union, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said, weeks before Britain holds a referendum on EU membership.

Bishop told reporters in Washington that "a strong UK as part of the European Union would be in Australia's interests", according to the Australian Associated Press.

Bishop said that she told British Prime Minister David Cameron of the Australian position at a meeting in Washington on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit, AAP said.

Britain holds a referendum on EU membership on June 23.

Britain's entry into the Common Market in 1973 was widely considered a betrayal in Australia, upending decades of tradition and a host of tariff agreements.

But now Britain takes only 2.5 percent of Australia's exports, while China takes more than 31 percent.

Supporters of Britain's exit from the European Union argue that "family ties" with Commonwealth members such as Australia could compensate for the partial loss of Europe's 444 million customers.

David Davis, a Conservative MP and die-hard eurosceptic, outlined their ambitions in a recent exhaustive speech.

"This is an opportunity to renew our strong relationships with Commonwealth and Anglosphere countries," he said.

"These parts of the world are growing faster than Europe. We share history, culture and language. We even share similar legal systems. The usual barriers to trade are largely absent."

(Reporting by Tom Westbrook; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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