Services to win from China deal: govt

The federal government believes the free trade agreement with China promises thousands of money-making opportunities for Australian businesses and fairer prices for local farmers.


But people may see an increase in grocery bills, and mining groups fear standards could slip at mines if Chinese companies bring in their own workers.

Already, the winners and losers of Monday’s deal by Chinese president Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Tony Abbott are being counted – four to five months before the agreement takes effect.

Trade Minister Andrew Robb says there will be a raft of opportunities for local businesses as China enlists Australia’s help in transforming its economy from an industrial base to a services one.

“They’ve still got 700 million people on farms who are, most of them, below the poverty line, who will be moving into the cities,” he told ABC radio on Tuesday.

Moving to a service-based economy would provide jobs for all those people, he said.

“That’s our sweet spot. That’s our skill set,” Mr Robb said.

He highlighted areas to benefit such as legal services, child care, aged care, private hospitals, health, education, engineering, mining and extraction services, manufacturing, architecture and urban planning.

Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce said dairy, beef, cattle, horticulture and wine growers should be pleased with the deals negotiated for them, while cotton farmers were not “underwhelmed”.

The government described the deal on dairy as “New Zealand-plus” – and the NZ government has already indicated it will try to negotiate an improved deal if it is better than their agreement.

Sugar farmers may not have fared so well, but there is always room to improve.

“We can’t let the whole deal fall over because we haven’t got a perfect deal,” Mr Joyce said.

He acknowledged the “very valid concern” grocery bills may increase as a result of the agreement.

But as it only affects the price farmers receive for raw produce at the farm gate, it shouldn’t make a big difference to retail price, he said.

Farmers only receive between 10 and 15 per cent of the retail price of their goods, with the rest going to retailers and processors.

The Australian Mining Association and Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy both expressed fears the deal could impact the mining industry’s health and safety standards.

Unions are concerned about the new three-month skilled visas and their effect on Australian wages and jobs.

But Mr Robb said Chinese mining companies would have to comply with Australian employment laws.

Mr Xi was on Tuesday in Tasmania where he and Mr Abbott met for a second signing ceremony in as many days, and committed to strengthen ties between the countries for continued work in Antarctica.