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Keeping pace with Chinese developments

A DIRECTOR of a public company recently asked me when China might become a member of the WTO. Try last November, chum. Taiwan was admitted in January. While few businessmen are as out of touch as our friend, some might be a tad slow.

A seminar in Perth last week organised by Austrade under the banner China, Chinese Taipei and the WTO: Are you ready? should have been a help. Veteran trade negotiator Graeme Thomson, told the audience: “there has never been a better time to be active in the Chinese markets than now, and the benefits could flow fairly soon into your pockets”.

The immediate impact of the trade changes will be large cuts in more than 1400 tariff lines. Farmers, coal miners, vineyard owners and software makers will be prime beneficiaries. Beef tariffs drop from 45 per cent to 10 per cent, cheese is pared from 50 per cent to 12 per cent and wine tariffs fall from 65 per cent to 10 per cent. The more affluent Chinese in the coastal cities like to sip a little red with their beef and oyster sauce. There are myriad new opportunities in service industries including inbound tourism, insurance, banking, legal and accountancy work, education, tourism, telecommunications and architecture.

Mr Thomson recently joined the private sector after 37 years in government, the last eight as the chief negotiator for Australia’s WTO agreement with China.

He is clear-eyed about problems in the process, including the need for Beijing to ensure that the new regime is uniformly applied across the country, but overall he sees the Chinese entry as “the real stuff of the rise and decline of nations”.

He left listeners in no doubt about his views on the sloth stopping Japan’s reform of its economy.

Among the most important changes in China are the ability of a foreign company to choose its own joint venture partner without interference, and the establishment of an appeal process for those who feel somebody is not adhering to the rules.

Australia’s Beijing-based senior trade commissioner Martin Walsh says equally exciting will be the shifts in the business environment, as efficiencies increase, corruption diminishes and the market becomes more open.

Taiwan is entering the WTO as a developed economy, but the country is committed to slashing red tape and initially clipping tariffs on Australian agricultural products from 20 per cent to 14 per cent.

All of this is good news for Australia, and WA in particular.

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