Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Monday he is intent on finalizing a free-trade agreement (FTA) with China within the next 12 months and is prepared to accept a watered-down deal to quickly cement an arrangement that has been under negotiation since 2005.
“I want the agreement to be as comprehensive as possible, but I’ve always taken the view that you should take what you can get today and pitch for the rest tomorrow,” Abbott said at the annual APEC summit, held on the Indonesian island of Bali.
“We will get the best deal we can [but] I can’t at this stage say it is going to include everything,” said Abbott, stressing the importance of Chinese foreign investment to Australian jobs and economic activity.
Negotiations have been delayed by Beijing’s concerns over opening markets to Australian food, while Australia wants China to do more to protect intellectual property. Former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd urged a close to the trade deal after its 19th round of talks in June.
“It would be wonderful if a trip towards the end of the first half of next year was consummated with an agreement here,” Abbott said. “That might be a little too optimistic, but our intention is to move as quickly as we can.”
Bilateral annual trade between Australia and China is worth about A$125 billion (US$117.8 billion) and China’s thirst for minerals has fueled 20 years of unbroken economic growth in Australia.
Separately, the US maintained it hopes to seal an ambitious trade pact on schedule by the end of this year despite resistance in some countries and the absence of US President Barack Obama from APEC where differences on the accord are being ironed out.
US Trade Representative Michael Froman said yesterday that world trade ministers may discuss the US-proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on the sidelines of a WTO meeting that starts on Dec. 3, with a goal of reaching a deal by the end of the year.
However, several outstanding issues remain, he told reporters at the APEC summit, citing issues ranging from intellectual property to state-owned enterprises, labor and the environment.
The WTO meeting will also be held on Bali.
The three-year-old TPP talks, now involving 12 nations, are aimed at establishing a free-trade bloc that would stretch from Vietnam to Chile to Japan, encompassing 800 million people, about a third of world trade and nearly 40 percent of the global economy.
The TPP, by seeking unprecedented access to domestic markets, is proving highly sensitive in developing countries such as Malaysia and Vietnam whose political systems could be shaken by intrusions in areas such as government procurement and state-owned enterprises.
Proponents call the TPP — the most ambitious trade pact since the demise of the Doha round of global talks — a “high-standard” agreement to eliminate tariffs and tackle an unprecedented range of non-tariff barriers that restrict growth.