CHINA and Australia may in coming days sign a free-trade agreement nearly a decade in the making, with Tony Abbott hoping to capitalise on the arrival of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Australia for the G20 Summit.
Following more than 20 rounds of negotiations between the nations dating back to May 2005, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop told Fairfax Media that she felt optimistic the historic free trade agreement could be struck early next week.
“It’s looking very positive, and [Trade Minister] Andrew Robb assures me that the areas of negotiation have narrowed significantly, so we are quite optimistic, but there’s not an agreement until everything’s agreed,” she said.
“They’re continuing to negotiate and I believe that some considerable progress has been made of recent days so we will obviously push for as early an agreement as we’re able to get.”
While details of the agreement are still being finalised, Mr Robb said it would lead to significant benefits for Australia’s economy.
“The whole point about the free trade agreement is to create jobs. If we don’t have a living document which moves with the changing nature of China, then we will be left behind,” he said.
“But if we do move with China’s change – if we help them with their growth in services, it’ll create endless opportunities for Australia. High value jobs, high paid jobs; and knowledge-based opportunities.”
The free trade agreement is expected to reduce tariffs for beef and dairy exports, as well as commodities including coal and alumina. The agreement is also heavy service-focused, with greater access to finance, architecture, construction, health and education.
“This agreement has the potential of being a remarkably timely piece of work because China is moving from an industrial infrastructure-based economy to service-based. It’s the only way, with massive growth of urbanisation, and the only way for jobs,” Mr Robb said.
“The whole agreement will look after agriculture, it will look after resources, but the big growth area is the emphasis we’re seeing on access to services.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping is in Brisbane this week for the G20 Summit and will address parliament in Canberra next Monday.