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Fast track Australian FTA with China: farmers

AAP | Wednesday October 13, 2004

Fast track FTA with China: farmers

Australian grain growers are demanding that the federal government fast track a free trade deal with China.

Grains Council of Australia president Keith Perrett said a free trade agreement should be signed off by July 1 next year, giving Australian farmers a chance to make inroads into potentially the world’s biggest market.

A scoping study into a possible free trade agreement (FTA) between China and Australia is already underway and due to be completed by early next year.

Australia and China will then decide whether to begin formal negotiations on the deal.

But Mr Perrett said the timeline was too slow for grain growers who stood to gain billions of dollars in new trade targeting the Chinese food and livestock sectors.

He said not only would Australian farmers move bulk quantities of grain to China, they could specialise in areas such as pellets for the pork and poultry sectors, and the growing Chinese steaming bread industry.

"The benefits of a China FTA for the Australian grains industry would certainly run into the billions of dollars," he told reporters.

"It’s certainly ambitious to have a free trade agreement with China by mid-2005, but that’s the way we believe the government should be pursuing this.

"If we don’t fast track it and push it forward now, you’ll see the timeline slip by."

Mr Perrett said Australia should immediately recognise China as a full market economy.

This has been one of the major concerns of Australian businesses, particularly those in the manufacturing sector, because of how it affects claims of dumping.

China wants Australia to recognise it as a full market economy as part of a diplomatic effort to put pressure on the US which maintains China is not up to full market status.

Mr Perrett said the Australia-United States FTA would pall into insignificance compared to what was available from an Australia-Sino FTA.

He said with 450 million affluent Chinese to target, Australia should not wait on World Trade Organisation negotiations before moving on a Sino FTA.

Other free trade deals should also be put on the backburner.

"China is certainly the one we believe the government should be pursuing with more vigour than any others," he said.

Mr Perrett said agriculture had to be at the heart of the FTA with China.

He said even if the FTA was initially restrictive, it would still give Australian farmers a major foot into a market that will dwarf all others.

 source: AAP