Herald Sun, Melbourne
Downer’s Asia trade vision
THE Federal Government wants to establish a powerful free trade bloc with Asia, giving Australia unprecedented economic access to almost half the world’s population.
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer yesterday said Australia was keen to expand on a deal in negotiation with the 10 Association of South-East Asian Nations plus New Zealand.
The second round of talks on that agreement, a key development in Australia-Asia relations, is due to start in Thailand on Thursday.
However, Mr Downer said he believed the deal could be widened to include Japan, the world’s second largest economy, China, the fastest growing global economy, and India.
The deal would provide Australia with a trade windfall with total exports and imports between the countries already at about $116 billion in the past year.
But such a deal would be some way off. Mr Downer told the Australian Industry Group (AIG) conference yesterday the deal could take at least 20 years to establish.
The free trade bloc would enhance Australia’s standing within the Asian Pacific region.
Australia has been granted a place at December’s East Asian Summit in Kuala Lumpur after it said it would support the region’s Treaty of Amity and Co-operation.
Negotiations for bilateral trade agreements with China have started and a feasibility study into a deal with Japan is under way.
"I think we could have a complementary free trade agreement that runs from China, to south of New Zealand and to India and the Pakistan border," Mr Downer said.
"I think that is quite possible, that’s a reasonable aspiration that we have talked about in free trade negotiations. We are negotiating between all 10 of the ASEAN countries with the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand deal which is quite an exciting idea. We hope to have that finalised in two years’ time."
Australia carries out about $33 billion worth of trade with the 10 ASEAN member countries, with the most activity directed towards Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
If a wider deal proceeds, Australia could expect to bolster its exports of crude petroleum, aluminium, gold, copper and dairy products.
AIG national president John Ingram last night said the Government had set an ambitious trade agenda. "These bilateral initiatives go hand in hand with efforts to achieve multilateral gains," he said.
Negotiations with China are proceeding but Mr Downer said the government did not believe a deal would be finalised shortly.