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Farms, unis welcome FTA with Chinese

The Australian, Australia

Farms, unis welcome FTA with Chinese

By Sid Maher

7 March 2014

National Farmers Federation president Brent Finlay says he is "excited" at the prospect of a free trade agreement with China but has urged the government not to allow "carve-outs and exclusions" in any deal.

Mr Finlay said yesterday news that Chinese Premier Li Keqiang had raised the prospect of a free trade deal with Australia being finalised soon would be greeted enthusiastically by the agricultural sector.

Mr Finlay cited New Zealand’s dramatic expansion of dairy exports to China after it had signed an FTA and said there was an opportunity for Australia to experience similar growth.

There was also a huge opportunity for beef and sheep meat.

Belinda Robinson, chief executive of Universities Australia, said a trade deal could be a positive development for the $15 billion international education industry — our largest non-resources export.

"China is already Australia’s largest source country for international students, yet it still has much untapped potential," she said. "One positive outcome of the FTA that the sector would like to see is more flexibility around the rules for undertaking marketing and student recruitment activities in China."

Trade Minister Andrew Robb said Premier Li’s comments were "most encouraging and highly welcome".

"In combination with South Korea and Japan, China makes up 51 per cent of all of our exports," Mr Robb said.

"Not only is China our largest customer for resources but it is our largest market for tourists; it is a largest market for services and we have got a growing and very important source of foreign investment from China."

But he said global competition was intense.

"The world is acutely aware of the opportunities presented by China. So we need to do all we can to lock in our trading assessment relationship if we are to protect and grow our access to China in the years and the decades ahead," Mr Robb said.

Opposition trade spokesman Penny Wong said China was one of Australia’s most important trading partners and in government Labor pursued a bilateral trade agreement between our two nations.

"Labor supports high-quality bilateral agreements that open markets for our businesses, create jobs and support the multilateral trading system," Senator Wong said.

"It’s important our broader interests, including the PBS and our environment and labour standards, are not traded away during those negotiations.

"The Abbott government shouldn’t pursue agreements for its trophy cabinet at the expense of the national interest."