Business / Economy

Nations vow to complete FTA

By Yao Jing in Beijing and Zhao Yinan in Sanya, Hainan (China Daily) Updated: 2014-04-10 07:20

China and Australia pledged to ramp up efforts to complete their nearly decadelong work on a free trade agreement, Premier Li Keqiang and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Wednesday.

Li met with Abbott in Sanya, Hainan province. Abbott is attending the Boao Forum for Asia, held from Tuesday to Friday.

"Signing a bilateral FTA as soon as possible is an important consensus being shared between China and Australia," Li said. "We hope both sides carry forward the talks in a pragmatic way, make mutual concessions and ensure mutual benefits."

Li said China is expecting Australia to continue providing a fair and competitive environment for Chinese companies doing business in that country.

The two countries should strive to reach a "more balanced" agreement, he said.

Li said China and Australia, two influential forces in the region, should expand cooperation in trade, investment, finance, education and defense affairs on the basis of respecting each other's key interests and concerns.

Abbott said Australia is willing to learn from China's experience in economic development.

"Australia welcomes more investment from China," Abbott said.

It is the first time Abbott has visited China as prime minister of Australia.

Talks between China and Australia on the FTA have been going on for almost nine years and were expected to be completed last year.

If a deal is signed, it would mark China's first FTA with a major developed economy and give Australian agricultural products easier access to the lucrative Chinese market.

However, the complex negotiations - which include agricultural tariffs and quotas, manufactured goods, foreign investment and services - have not gone smoothly.

Before arriving in China, Abbott achieved success in trade discussions with two other Asian countries.

Australia and Japan reached agreements on bilateral free trade talks and joint research on submarine technology on Monday.

On Tuesday, South Korea signed a free trade agreement with Australia to continue energy imports from the resource-rich country and expand Seoul's car exports in return.

Australia's recent actions show it is embracing a more open market, experts said.

"This is also paving the way for the FTA negotiations between China and Australia," said Jin Bosong, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, a government think tank.

China is Australia's largest trading partner in goods and services, which were valued at A$130 billion ($122 billion) in 2013. Resources continue to account for a large proportion of its exports to China.

"Faced with the sluggish global mining market, which is going to remain for a long time, Australia will benefit from the removal or reduction of the tariff and nontariff barriers as China is in need of such products," Jin said.

Meanwhile, Chinese consumers are switching from traditional staple foods to higher-protein foods such as beef and lamb, a development that is providing opportunities for Australian agricultural exports.

In the investment sector, China has been ranked in the top three sources of proposed investment, behind the US and UK, for the past three years. China's direct investment in Australia reached A$16.7 billion in 2012, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.

"Chinese companies will have fewer restrictions in tapping the Australian market, and meanwhile, Australia will find new opportunities for its economic growth in the coming decade in partnering with China," Jin said.

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 Nations vow to complete FTA

Premier Li Keqiang and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott attend a signing ceremony in Sanya, Hainan province, on Wednesday. The two countries concluded agreements on financial and agricultural matters. Wu Zhiyi / China Daily

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