Associated Press

Perth, March 18:

Australia and China are moving quickly toward a free trade agreement, foreign minister Alexander Downer said today, with a preliminary study likely to be completed ahead of schedule.

"There are very real prospects for Australia and China here," Downer said, "There is mutual benefit in exploring that relationship, and we ought to do it a little faster than we are doing now."Downer said the mood of talks was so positive that a preliminary study into an agreement could be completed before the scheduled date of October 2005.

"When president Hu Jintao came to Canberra last October we agreed to set up a scoping study, to look at whether a free trade agreement with China is appropriate, and that work has started," Downer said.