Australia to push China on free-trade pact
The Group of 20 summit to be held in Brisbane in November next year will be the perfect platform for Australia to revive free-trade talks with China that have dragged on since 2005, said an Australian trade official, who cautioned that a deal might not come any time soon.
Tim Nicholls, treasurer and trade minister of Queensland and currently on a two-week trade promotion trip in Asia, said the two countries were unlikely to resolve the major points of difference quickly.
"[Mainland state-owned enterprises] want to come, and we want to sell agricultural products and other things with as few trade barriers as we can," Nicholls said. "We don't want to be in a business that provides subsidies."
Cattle raisers in Australia have never been more eager for a free-trade pact with China, as drought in the north and protracted talks with Indonesia about lifting a cap on Australian beef mean they need to find new markets for growth.
While Australian beef now enjoys low tariffs in China compared with elsewhere in the region, the country still lags New Zealand, which has a duty-free pact with China. Australia shipped a record 62,000 tonnes of beef to China in May, more than 20 times the figure a year ago.
While Australia's Minister for Trade Richard Marles said in Beijing last week that his government was willing to cede ground on certain issues in exchange for access to "the greatest market in the world", any meaningful talk could only begin after the general election in September.
China wants the threshold at which non-state investments attract scrutiny by the Foreign Investment Review Board to be raised from A$248 million (HK$1.8 billion) to A$1 billion. It has also been demanding an end to the automatic referral of all investments by state-owned entities to the review board.
Nicholls said the Australian government had worked to facilitate investment and immigration from China. The "significant investment visa" scheme introduced in November practically removed language requirement for applicants, which was deemed the biggest barrier for Chinese immigrants. The number of approvals by the Queensland government has since jumped 40 per cent year on year.
Apart from a number of hotel and redevelopment schemes, the Queensland government will also soon tender two infrastructure projects - one for rail and one for road and tunnel - worth more than A$5.5 billion.