China, Australia FTA talks make progress

Sydney, May 29 :

The latest round of free trade negotiations between Australia and China made good progress, with Beijing dropping its resistance to including key sectors in the talks, China’s chief negotiator said in remarks published here today.

Zhang Xiangchen told The Australian newspaper that following the talks in Beijing, which wrapped up Friday, all sectors from agriculture and services to government procurement and investment were on the negotiating table. Australian trade minister Mark Vaile had complained prior to the latest talks that Chinese leaders were dragging their feet, notably trying to exclude key agricultural products for fear of being swamped by Australian beef and wheat exports.

But Zhang said China, which joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 2001, was ready to take a ‘another big step forward’ with its first attempt to negotiate a free trade deal with a developed economy. “We can understand Australia’s spirited approach to obtain a very comprehensive arrangement,” he said, “We believe it is WTO-plus. Basically, we share the will to substantially remove all trade barriers. We have no difficulty in doing that.”

“Five years after joining the WTO, we need to take another big step forward in trade and

it is good for us to have this experiment with Australia rather than with other developed countries,” he said.

Zhang said the next round of talks in September would start debating the size of concessions each side would make on goods and agriculture. He said the services sector would prove more difficult since China’s industry was far behind that of developed economies but Beijing was committed to striving for a comprehensive, all-sector, approach.

“To my understanding, opening our industry is a good approach. Without liberalisation, we can’t develop our services by themselves. The problem is, to what extent, by how many steps can we reach that goal.” Australian exports to China soared by 46 per cent to $12 billion in 2005 while imports rose by 19 per cent, making China Australia’s second largest trade partner after Japan.

The two countries launched the free trade talks a year ago and they are expected to continue until at least late 2007 when Chinese president Hu Jintao will visit Sydney for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit and could sign a draft agreement.

Japan, China talk

TOKYO: Japan on Monday shared with China how to become more energy efficient and protect its environment from rapid industrialisation, amid strained ties between the countries in part over oil and gas resources. Hundreds of Chinese officials and specialists headed by commerce minister Bo Xilai are taking part in the three-day long forum which will discuss the steel, automobile, cement, fuel cell and other sectors. The Chinese team will travel outside Tokyo to learn how major Japanese firms, including automakers and power generators, promote energy efficiency and environmental conservation. China is the second-largest energy consumer after the US on the back of its very sharp economic growth over the past decade and more. Japan is ranked fifth despite its position as the second-largest economy.. — AFP