China-Australia free-trade deal comes as Xi sends warning

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

China and Australia have finalised a free trade deal that will open up markets worth billions of dollars to Australian exporters.


The deal is more wide-ranging than many industries had anticipated.

Chinese president Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Tony Abbott concluded the deal, 10 years in the making, in Canberra.

It came as President Xi also addressed a special sitting of federal parliament.

Amanda Cavill reports.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

Chinese president Xi Jinping has praised Australia’s innovation and global influence in an address to federal parliament.

President Xi says Australia is a country of dynamism and innovation.

But he used the main part of his speech to send a clear message about China’s place in the Asia-Pacific.

He says China backs regional peace, but not at the expense of sovereignty.

(Translated) “The Chinese government is ready to enhance dialogue and cooperation with relevant countries to jointly maintain freedom of navigation and the safety of maritime rules and ensure a maritime order of peace, tranquility and a win-win cooperation. At the same time, the Chinese people will firmly uphold the core interests of China’s sovereignty, security and territorial integrity.”

President Xi has urged Australia and other countries to work with China to join forces against any threats that undermine peaceful development.

And he says he believes the free trade agreement reached between Australia and China will be mutually beneficial for the ever strengthening friendship between the two nations.

(Translated) “The conclusion of the China-Australia FTA negotiations will create a higher-level platform and provide better institutional arrangements for our economic cooperation, which will boost our traditional cooperation in such priority areas as energy and resources and accelerate the growth of new cooperation areas such as infrastructure, agriculture and animal husbandry, so as to further diversify our business ties.”

The federal government says the multi-billion dollar free trade agreement with China will “supercharge” the Australian economy and strengthen the two nations’ relationship.

The deal is worth around $18 billion to the Australian economy over the next decade.

China is Australia’s leading trade partner, with the two-way flow of goods and services exceeding $150 billion last year.

Mr Abbott says the agreement demonstrates just how far the relationship with China has developed in the 40 years since diplomatic relations between the two were established.

He says Australia and China are now peoples with shared aspirations to a better life.

“Yes, Australia and China have different systems of government. One is a young country, the other an ancient one being renewed. But we have become a model of how two peoples and two countries can complement each other. We are testament to the saying that a wise man seeks harmony, not conformity.”

Under the agreement, 85 per cent of all Australian exports will enter China tariff-free.

That is expected to rise to 93 per cent within four years and 95 per cent when the deal is fully in force in more than a decade.

The agreement will give Australian dairy farmers tariff-free access to China’s enormously lucrative infant-formula market.

Tariffs on horticultural products, seafood and other goods accounting for 93 per cent of Australian exports by dollar value will be reduced to zero.

And tariffs recently imposed on Australian coal will be removed over two years.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has welcomed the deal.

Mr Shorten says Labor will examine the details of the agreement with interest.

“A decade of hard work has gone into creating this opportunity for Australia, from Prime Minister (John) Howard, to Prime Ministers (Kevin) Rudd and (Julia) Gillard, and now Prime Minister Abbott. We look forward to examining the detail of the final agreement. We believe in open markets and liberalised trade, driving economic growth, creating jobs, expanding the middle class, raising living standards and eradicating poverty.”

As well as completing the deal, President Xi is only the second Chinese leader to ever address the Australian federal parliament.