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Asean-Australia-New Zealand FTA near conclusion: Rudd

Ther Edge Daily 11-07-2008

Asean-Australia-New Zealand FTA near conclusion: Rudd

by Doreen Leong

KUALA LUMPUR: The ongoing negotiations on the free trade agreement (FTA) between Asean countries and Australia-New Zealand (ANZ) are expected to be concluded in the near term, said Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

“Australia and New Zealand have had an FTA - what we call the Closer Economic Relations agreement - for 25 years. The idea is to link our bilateral FTA with the Asean group.

“It is a complex negotiation with 10 in the Asean group and two in the ANZ group. But we are getting close to finalising the negotiations. I am hopeful that we can overcome the last obstacles in the months ahead,” he said.

Rudd was on his first official visit to Malaysia after becoming prime minister in November last year. He was delivering his address at the joint luncheon of the Malaysia Australia and Australia Malaysia Business Councils yesterday.

According to reports, the Asean members were trying to limit the scope of tariff cuts on meat and dairy products. This has received some backlash as the proposed free trade pact with Asean did not include a timetable for abolishing duties on meat and dairy products.

However, Rudd said in his speech that a free trade pact between Asean and ANZ would mean that the markets for many products have become one - a market with a combined gross domestic product of US$2.3 trillion (RM7.59 trillion).

He said that the combined GDP figure was bigger than India’s at US$1.1 trillion and nearly three-quarters the size of China’s US$3.3 trillion economy.

Rudd said Australia and Malaysia would “invigorate” the proposed bilateral negotiations after the conclusion of the Asean-ANZ FTA.

He said Australian investments in Malaysia have grown remarkably in recent years, citing ANZ Bank, which has invested a billion ringgit in AmBank. Rio Tinto Aluminium Ltd signed a pact with Cahaya Mata Sarawak last year to build an aluminium smelter in Sarawak to cater for the rising demand for the metal in the region.

Australia’s exports to Malaysia last year stood at A$4.48 billion (RM13.98 billion) while Malaysia’s exports to Australia amounted to A$8.34 billion.

After discussions with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi yesterday, Rudd said the two countries had agreed to a joint ministerial commission, which would involve regular meetings between the foreign ministers of both countries.

They also agreed to launch a pilot sister programme between six schools each in Malaysia and Australia so that students could know each other better.

The two countries also agreed on a work-and-holiday visa scheme to enable young people to take temporary employment while visiting Malaysia or Australia.

 source: The Edge Daily