Business / Economy

Australia keen to boost ties with China, ASEAN

By Li Xiang ( Updated: 2014-09-16 14:23

Australia is willing to deepen and expand economic relationship with China and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) as the country's prosperity is more connected than ever to developments in the region, said a senior Australian diplomat.

"Australia has a significant economic relationship with China and the ASEAN region, and one we wish to deepen and expand further," said Simon Merrifield, Australian Ambassador to the ASEAN, in an interview before the China-ASEAN Expo, which opened on Tuesday in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.

Australia has been invited to the expo as a special guest country. The Australian pavilion will showcase its trade, investment, education and tourism capabilities during the event.

The country's inaugural participation shows its support to the unique, multilateral economic and business cooperation platform, said Merrifield who will represent the country to participate in strategic government-to-government dialogues with leaders from China and across the ASEAN region.

Merrifield said that Australia is keen to work with China to ensure that RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) will be a credible and commercially meaningful agreement that will underpin ongoing economic growth over the years ahead.

The RCEP is a proposed free trade agreement (FTA) between ASEAN member states and the six countries with which ASEAN has existing FTAs (Australia, China, India, Japan, Korea and New Zealand).

"RCEP is a big negotiation and there are significant challenges. The negotiations are with a diverse region, with different levels of economic development and varying levels of ambition," Merrifield said.

Australia is also willing to step up efforts to bring the FTA with China to conclusion this year, Merrifield said.

"Negotiators have adopted a pragmatic approach with a view to securing a balanced outcome that addresses priority interests upon entry into force, and which provides architecture to deliver further liberalization over time," he said.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott visited China in April and he will visit again in November for the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting. It will be followed by President Xi Jinping's visit to Australia to attend the G20.

Two-way trade between China and Australia grew by 21 percent in 2013 to reach around A$150 billion ($136 billion), more than one-fifth of Australia's total trade. The growth is mainly led by exports of iron ore, coal and gold, according to Merrifield.

China is also Australia's largest market for agricultural products, with exports reaching A$8.7 billion in 2013, the largest source of overseas students, and the second-largest source of visitor arrivals.

In the meantime, China has overtaken Switzerland and Canada as the sixth-largest foreign direct investor in Australia, with a total value of almost A$21 billion, which represents a 29 percent increase from 2012.

"We are also seeing sustained Australian investment in China and we hope that China's continued reform efforts, including through the Shanghai Free Trade Zone, will see the investment environment for Australian companies in China continue to improve," Merrifield added.

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