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Union slams China FTA, industry wary

Sydney Morning Herald

Union slams China FTA, industry wary

April 19, 2005

Australia’s proposed free trade agreement with China is on early shaky ground with a union leader claiming it’s based on a lie and industry warning it should not be accepted at any cost.

Australia and China on Monday night signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU), paving the way for the start of negotiations on a free trade agreement (FTA).

The Australian industry Group (AiG) says China already has achieved a major goal - even before talks start - by being granted market economy status.

And that has alarmed Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) national secretary Doug Cameron, who said both the US and the European Union had refused to accord China market economy status.

Mr Cameron said the Chinese government controlled and intervened in every aspect of its economy and had a suite of provincial non-tariff barriers to protect and promote its industries.

"Workers have no bargaining rights. The country has no human rights, poor environmental standards and a diabolical health and safety system," he said in a statement.

He argued that Australia was "comprehensively out-negotiated" in its recently signed free trade pact with the United States, which he said undermined any right for Prime Minister John Howard to expect to be trusted in regard to the latest trade negotiations.

Mr Cameron said China represented a threat to living standards and job security around the world.

However, the National Farmers’ Federation says farmers and agricultural exporters stand to gain from a high quality FTA.

Federation president Peter Corish said Australia had to focus on gaining free access for all agricultural goods under the proposed deal.

"Free access to the Chinese market for all agricultural products and a more transparent and predictable import system are essential outcomes of any FTA with China," he said in a statement.

"Australian farmers have much to gain from an FTA with China that eliminates all current tariffs and quotas and that addresses important behind the border issues."

Australian agricultural exports to China were worth $2.4 billion last financial year, only a very small percentage of the total Chinese agricultural market.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Peter Hendy says Australia and China should pursue the FTA as aggressively as possible.

"If realised, an Australia-China FTA would place Australia in a unique position - having FTAs with two of the world’s major economic powerhouses - China and the US," he said in a statement.

"This is an exciting objective worth pursuing."

AiG chief executive Heather Ridout says it was estimated the deal would boost the Australian economy by $24 billion over a decade, while the Chinese economy would benefit to the tune of $US64 billion.

She said the deal had to be consistent with World Trade Organisation rules and truly comprehensive in nature.

"It must achieve substantial liberalisation in both tariff and non-tariff barriers and have mechanisms laid down so that these reforms can be genuinely implemented and monitored," she said.

"Specifically, in relation to post-border issues, AiG has emphasised the critical aspect of intellectual property protection which must be central to the negotiating and monitoring arrangements."

 source: Sydney Morning Herald