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Sino FTA raise job loss concerns : Downer

Sydney Morning Herald

Sino FTA raise job loss concerns : Downer

13 August 2004

(AAP) A free trade deal between Australia and China would generate controversy because of its possible impact on Australian manufacturers, Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer said.

Mr Downer, addressing a conference examining a possible Sino-Australia free trade agreement (FTA), said a deal between the two countries would enhance trade and strategic linkages.

But he cautioned there would be serious concerns in Australia about the economic fallout from a deal with the world’s emerging economic powerhouse.

"I think it’s going to be much more a question of what will be the impact of a genuine FTA on Australian manufacturing," he said.

"There are some sections of Australian manufacturing which are quite opposed to a FTA with China, quite concerned about it.

"That will manifest itself in debates in the parliament, it will cause some controversy in the parliament."

Australia and China are conducting a feasibility study into an FTA, with the Chinese keen to get formal negotiations underway next year.

But already some Australian industries have raised concerns about the move, particularly in relation to China’s status under world trade rules and its internal economic support systems.

Mr Downer said it was likely Australian Greens senator Bob Brown would focus on China’s human rights policies and vehemently oppose the FTA.

But for most other Australian politicians the focus would be on manufacturing jobs.

"I would anticipate now that one of the people who opposed the FTA with the US with vehemence and a good deal of anger, Senator Bob Brown of the Greens, will be passionately opposed to a FTA with China because he sees Tibet and human rights issues and so on as the issues that should completely dominate Australia’s relationship with China," he said.

"Most members of parliament won’t see that as a reason to oppose a FTA with China, it will be much more a question of the mechanics of what will be the impact on particular Australian industries."

Mr Downer said a trade deal with China would be to the advantage of both countries.

"The possibility of a bilateral FTA would be a further boon to the growth of our trade and investment relationship, but just as importantly a FTA would be another clear sign of our preparedness to make a long term commitment to a relationship," he said.

"It would also be another clear sign of the seriousness of our mutual regard."