Whatever happened to the Australia-China FTA?

Composite image of business handshake

Whatever happened to the Australia-China FTA?

Australia began negotiating a free trade agreement (FTA) with China in 2005 and completed the 21st round of talks in Beijing last month. New Zealand and China concluded their agreement after three years and 15 rounds of talks. So after nearly a decade of negotiations, where are we up to?

Photo opportunity

As Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Tony Abbot will be meeting at three consecutive leaders’ meeting in Shanghai, Myanmar and Brisbane this November, it seems an ideal time for them to announce a photo-opportunity conclusion. However, the odds are still even on the outcome, with the same stumbling blocks in the process still in place – namely greater agricultural product access for Australia in China and an easing of restraints on Chinese financial investments in Australia.

People close to the process are quoted by the Sydney Morning Herald as saying that such concessions can only be made at the highest political levels, which doesn’t sound encouragingly democratic, especially when our largest trading partner is pushing for the right to import Chinese labour for select infrastructure deals.

Kiwi envy

Then there’s the little problem with getting what New Zealand got, which I guess rests on the basis of (my neighbour’s) reciprocity. TheAustralian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade suggests the negotiations are complex, but apparently not as complicated as those with our trans-Tasman cousins, whose exports to China doubled in 2014.

Doubtful pundits are saying that Mr Abbott’s 12 month-deadline for getting the deal done will soon expire and that the Australian Government may walk away from the deal unless there are some major concessions made. Fortunately for us, China has previously made deep concessions at the last minute.

So the outcome is a bit like this Sunday’s NRL final: it ain’t over till it’s over. Over to you, Tony.

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