Australian PM Abbott makes little progress on trade deal

Visiting Australian PM wants to conclude talks on long-stalled pact by November

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 April, 2014, 3:41am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 April, 2014, 5:37am

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said yesterday he hoped a free-trade agreement with China would be signed before November, offering little progress on a deal at the centre of his visit to his country's largest trade partner.

Abbott, whose week-long trip to North Asia includes stops in Japan and South Korea, has put trade atop his agenda.

On Monday, he clinched a basic trade deal to cut import tariffs during a visit with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

There were no apparent breakthroughs in China, where Abbott met Premier Li Keqiang at a business conference in Hainan earlier in the week. Both sides agreed to speed up talks.

"I welcome Premier Li's commitment to accelerate these talks and hope that they might be concluded by the time President Xi [Jinping ] visits Australia in November," Abbott said in Shanghai.

His calls to seal the trade deal before Xi's planned visit are consistent with his pledges in October to settle terms within 12 months.

Abbott touted Australia's role as a leading exporter of coal, iron ore, beef and natural gas. "This means that Australia can offer China - and the other big economies of North Asia - the resource security, the energy security and the food security that they all seek," he said.

Annual trade between Australia and China is worth about US$117.8 billion, and China's thirst for minerals has fuelled more than 20 years of unbroken economic growth in Australia.

But some criticise Abbott for setting a timeline for clinching the deal, arguing that it gives China leverage in the negotiations, which began in 2005 and are soon to enter their 20th round.