Australia says elusive China trade deal close

AFP
Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, pictured during a visit to Singapore, on August 22, 2014
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Sydney (AFP) - Australia on Thursday said it hopes to complete an elusive free trade agreement with its top export partner China when President Xi Jinping visits in November.

FTA talks between the two nations first began in 2005, but stalled last year over agriculture and Beijing's insistence on removing investment limits for state-owned enterprises.

But Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said she was hopeful a deal would be reached by the time Xi attends the G20 summit in Brisbane in November.

Bishop is due to host her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Australia on Sunday, and said Xi's visit would be on the agenda.

"We will be discussing President Xi Jinping's visit during the G20 summit in November -- and we hope that at that time we shall be in a position to conclude the negotiations for an FTA," she was quoted as saying by The Australian newspaper.

"China is Australia's largest trading partner and an increasingly important source of investment. We have a shared interest in the stability of our region."

China's ambassador to Australia Ma Zhaoxu confirmed that FTA discussions were being accelerated.

"We are entering a new stage of development," he told the newspaper. "We are speeding up negotiations."

Over the past year Australia has sealed free trade deals with Japan and South Korea, but China will be the feather in its cap.

The FTA is expected to cover an array of issues, including agricultural tariffs and quotas, manufactured goods, services, temporary entry of people and foreign investment.

Ma said China's urbanisation and industrialisation offered Australia a "goldmine" because of its need to import goods and services.

He estimated this to be worth more than $US10 trillion over the next five years, while China would invest $US500 billion overseas over the same period, the newspaper reported.

Australia already has several other bilateral FTA pacts, including with Singapore, Thailand and the United States.

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