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Leaders optimistic on Sino-Australian FTA talks

People’s Daily Online, China

Leaders optimistic on Sino-Australian FTA talks

29 June 2006

(China Daily) Both the Chinese premier and the Australian prime minister have expressed their hopes of accelerating talks on a free-trade agreement yesterday in the southern city.

The sixth-round negotiation of the Sino-Australia FTA will be held in Beijing in early September, tackling substantial issues such as bidding and offering. Talks began last May.

"We have agreed to speed up the free trade area (FTA) negotiations," Premier Wen Jiabao told reporters after a one-hour meeting with Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

"Both sides are very sincere I believe Chinese and Australian trade will both benefit," he said.

Liao Xiaoqi, vice-minister of commerce, said the Chinese and Australian FTA delegations are working hard to reach a balanced agreement in one or two years. "We are quite confident," he told an FTA seminar.

Given that both countries have different economic structures and are at different development stages, problems are inevitable, especially in agricultural trade, the service industry mode and the openness of investment, Liao said.

"We believe all issues concern both sides and could be discussed at the negotiating table Only with an open and active attitude and full consideration and understanding of the difficulties of each party, can we finally make a breakthrough and reach a win-win FTA agreement," he said.

Howard said the negotiations are going well and he is optimistic about them.

He said Sino-Australian trade has made remarkable achievements even without the free-trade agreement.

"What we should remember is that whether we sign a free trade agreement with China or not we have one super economic relationship with this country and the quadrupling of exports over a period of 10 years is a pretty remarkable achievement," he said.

He also agreed that there are some important issues to be addressed and hoped the industries of both countries are able to understand the corresponding situations.

Howard said he hoped China would put forward concessions on Australian access to its agriculture and services. He said Australian trade negotiators would reciprocate with similar concessions in manufacturing.

He noted that Australia was very keen to export far more natural resources to China, where energy and commodity use is going to continue to surge as the nation’s 1.3 billion people grow wealthier.

However, he stressed Australia’s economic relations with China should be viewed more broadly than just the resources sector.

"The service sector has certainly got enormous opportunities and I think we should see the relationship in a very broad manner; for example, the financial service, education and even in manufacturing, and not just see it in terms of coal, iron ore and gas," he said.

China has been the second-largest trade partner of Australia and second-largest export destination of Australia after Japan.

The trade between the two countries reached US$27.3 billion in 2005, up 33.6 per cent from a year ago.

In the first five months of this year, the trade volume rose 17.4 per cent year-on-year to US$11.7 billion, according to official figures.