International Business Times | Monday, October 18, 2010
Australia says FTA deal with China long way off
China and Australia remain well apart in glacial negotiations on a free trade deal, especially in the agriculture and services sectors, a senior Australian trade official said on Monday.
"They continue to be hard going. We continue to be well apart in terms of market access in both agriculture and services," Australian Foreign Ministry Deputy Secretary Bruce Gosper told Australia’s parliament during budget testimony.
"There are continuing expressions of commitment and engagement, but no significant movement," said Gosper, the country’s trade chief.
Australia and China began free trade talks in April 2005, but negotiations stalled after the 13th round in December 2008 and strains over the jailing of an Australian Rio Tinto executive for stealing commercial secrets and bribery.
After a delay of more than a year, both countries resumed free trade negotiations in February, a move Australia said proved that the huge resource export trade had not been hurt by the Rio row and a failed 2009 bid by China’s state-owned Chinalco to buy a $19.5 billion stake in Rio.
The two countries are aiming for a deal which could inject up to $124 billion extra into Australia’s resource-rich economy over coming decades, according to some business sector estimates. China is Australia’s biggest trading partner, with two-way trade worth some A$83 billion ($82.26 billion) in the 2008-09, and China buying more than A$25 billion worth of Australian iron ore and coal.
Gosper said the next round of talks would take place at a still undecided time early next year, with China reluctant to open its market to Australian agriculture and services.
"Our expectations in terms of what a comprehensive FTA would mean in the areas of agriculture and services are well in excess of what China is prepared to put on the table at this point," Gosper said.
The two also have unresolved differences over the lack of strong rules to protect intellectual property in China.
Chinese state-owned companies are eager to buy into Australian mining assets to secure supplies of raw materials in its rapidly growing economy, the world’s third largest, and China wants more clarity on Australian foreign investment rules.
($1=1.009 Australian Dollars)