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Beijing and Canberra to resume trade talks

By Huang Zhiling in Chengdu and Zhao Shengnan in Beijing | China Daily | Updated: 2013-07-31 07:41

Foreign minister says Australia welcomes investment from China

Canberra is committed to pushing forward a long-running free trade agreement with Beijing, the Australian foreign minister said on Tuesday, days before the two countries are scheduled to hold another round of FTA talks.

The agreement can help raise bilateral relations to a new level, though "without an FTA, our trade relationship with China has flourished", Bob Carr said in an exclusive interview with China Daily in Chengdu, Sichuan province, the second leg of his 10-day trip to China.

"Leaders agreed that negotiations would be undertaken in a pragmatic and flexible way," Carr said.

"Australia is seeking to conclude a comprehensive agreement that would benefit both parties."

Carr was speaking several days after both sides held talks in Beijing. Australia's Trade Minister Richard Marles and China's Minister of Commerce Gao Hucheng met to move the free trade agreement negotiation between the two nations toward an earlier finalization.

Marles said the next round of talks, which will be the 20th set of official negotiations, will take place in the next few days, The Australian newspaper reported.

The two countries began formal negotiations in 2005, but a breakthrough has been elusive because of differences over issues such as further opening up markets for each others' agricultural products and the threshold under which China's State-owned enterprises can invest in Australia.

Currently, a review of the investment is required if it's made by a State-owned enterprise, while a privately owned Chinese company can invest up to A$248 million ($224 million) in Australia without being reviewed.

"We of course welcome the Chinese government's commitment to the negotiations, which have been difficult because of the range of interests and sensitivities on both sides," Carr said.

Australia welcomes Chinese investment, Carr said, adding that the country has pledged to further tap into Asian markets' potential, with China as one of its major targets.

This year "will likely mark something of a turning point in the bilateral relationship," Carr quoted Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd as saying.

"The intense investment phase of the mining boom appears to be coming to an end, but let's keep in mind there's still plenty of upside," he said.

Australia has been one of the most favored destinations for Chinese investment for years. Chinese direct investment to Australia last year increased by 21 percent from 2011 to $11.4 billion, in fields ranging from mining to the food industry.

However, Canberra has banned some Chinese companies' bids on projects due to "security reasons", including the case of Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei, which was barred from bidding on the $38 billion nationwide high-speed Internet network in March last year.

Yang Baoyun, an Asia-Pacific studies professor at Peking University, said Canberra's efforts to reduce discriminatory regulations while strengthening trust in Chinese investment are key to moving cooperation forward.

"Australia would like to invite more investment from China to boost its economy, which is indeed highly complementary to China's, but it also tends to dismiss cooperation with China due to insufficient trust in the country," Yang said.

Carr started his visit to China on July 25. He visited Hong Kong and will visit Chongqing and Fujian province after the trip to Sichuan.

This is his third visit to China since becoming foreign minister in March 2012, and his first visit to inland China.

On Tuesday afternoon, he opened an Australian consulate-general in Chengdu, Australia's first consulate-general in inland China.

"China's 10 fastest-growing cities in terms of per capita GDP and population are situated inland. In terms of provinces, seven of the top eight fastest-growing provinces in 2011 were located inland," Carr said.

China currently is Australia's largest trade partner, largest source of imports and largest export destination, with bilateral trade volume reaching $122.3 billion in 2012, up 4.9 percent on the previous year.

Contact the writer at huangzhiling@chinadaily.com.cn

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