Selling the China deal

A FREE trade agreement with China would cement Australia’s place as a long-term strategic and trade partner with arguably the world’s fastest growing economy, according to one of the Federal Government’s top trade negotiators.

While direct economic benefits would result, trade liberalisation with China would also deliver other dynamic benefits and secure Australia’s ‘preferred partner’ status, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade deputy secretary Geoff Raby said.

Mr Raby was in Perth last week to meet with WA business leaders and representatives from the State Government to discuss a feasibility study into a possible FTA with China.

The visit was part of an awareness campaign into the study, which is scheduled to run until October 2005. However, Dr Raby said the study may be concluded earlier.

Business leaders have been asked for submissions into the study, which open on March 31.

The signing of the Trade and Economic Framework on October 24 last year, by Trade Minister Mark Vaile and Chinese Vice Minister for commerce Yu Guangzhou, represented a major shift in China’s approach to strategic trade policy.

“This is the first time that China has agreed to do something like this with a developed country. So we’re really positioned at the head of the queue on this,” Dr Raby said.

“It’s very difficult to get the Chinese to agree to do a scoping study like this.”

The recent landmark deals between China and WA’s resources industry, along with the recently concluded Australia-US FTA, were instrumental in influencing China’s decision to enter into trade talks with Australia, according to Dr Raby.

Further, Australia did not follow the US to pressure China to revalue its currency and went against the grain of international opinion that China remains a ‘non market’ economy and revised its anti-dumping legislation to facilitate bilateral trade.

“I think the relationship with China is so positive at present that it has created a unique atmosphere and opportunity to do this … and the Chinese are very engaged,” Dr Raby said.

“Quite quickly we’ve agreed on the outline of the study, the chapter headings the broad outline of content. So from that sense its moving forward quite quickly.”

However, Dr Raby cautioned that the study was not intended to pre-empt a decision on whether or not to begin negotiations on an FTA with China.

“That’s a very big decision for both countries. It is a historic decision for Australia,” he said.

“The study aims to put in front of ministers the very best analysis and advice that we possibly can to enable them to make the decision whether or not to do an FTA.”

China is Australia’s third largest source of imported goods and is our fifth largest export market. Two-way trade between China and Australia has been growing by 20 per cent a year for the past five years.

Dr Raby led the recently concluded FTA with Thailand and is a former ambassador to the World Trade Organisation in Geneva.



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