Australia and China sign historic free trade agreement

Australian and Chinese officials have this week signed off on one of the most important trade deals in Australian history.

The two countries have inked a comprehensive free trade agreement (FTA), allowing each country to sell their exports in each others markets almost completely free of tariffs.

The free trade agreement itself is expected to benefit primary agricultural producers in Australia, enabling the sale of products like milk, meat and wine more competitive on the Chinese market.

“Australia’s agriculture sector will be able to capitalise on its well-deserved reputation as a clean, green producer of premium food and beverage products,” said Andrew Robb, Australian Minister for Trade and Investment.

It is also expected to put Chinese manufacturers in a much better position within the Australian market, with Chinese automotive and electronics manufacturers set to see the biggest benefit.

“The China-Australia FTA is or has attained its goal of being a comprehensive, high-quality and balanced agreement. It has the highest degree of liberalization amongst all the FTAs that China has so far signed with another economy,” said Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng.

A total of 85% of all trade tariffs between the two countries will be lifted on day one of the deal, with this rising to 95% once the FTA is fully implemented over the next few years.

The deal, which is the most comprehensive of any FTA signed to date by China, follows on the back of similar agreements signed between Australia, South Korea and Japan.

Unions concerned over job losses

Despite the signing of the agreement, the bill is yet to clear Australian parliament, where it faces scrutiny by Labor and The Greens.

As well, unions are lobbying these parties to oppose the agreement as they believe it will harm Australian manufacturing, and allow Chinese workers to take Australian jobs.

“Free trade agreements must support local jobs and industry and all indications are that the deal with China does not,” said ACTU President Ged Kearney. “There must be strong rules around labour market testing and labour mobility clauses in the China free trade deal to ensure local jobs are protected”