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China-Australia free trade agreement 'important landmark'

CANBERRA -- Australia's new free trade agreement with China will remove costly trade barriers and boost the economies of both nations, international relations experts here said on Wednesday.

The long-awaited formal agreement were signed by Australia's Trade Minister Andrew Robb and China's Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng Wednesday at a ceremony in Canberra.

Economists have hailed the landmark decision as mutually beneficial, saying that both countries will be satisfied by the outcome.

Peter Drysdale, [Hong Kong Company Formation]Head of East Asian Bureau of Economic Research at the Australian National University told Xinhua in an interview that the red tape had been holding back export numbers from reaching their peaks, and he expects the free trade agreement to pay handsome dividends for the slowing economies of both nations.

"The signing of ChAFTA (China-Australia free trade agreement) is an important landmark in the relationship between the two countries," he said on Wednesday.

"What is does is opening up opportunities for change. Australia will become an even more important, low-cost supplier to China."
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The FTA means that up to 85 percent of all Australian exports will enter China tariff-free. Within four years, the number will increase to 93 percent while, within a decade, more than 95 percent of goods will be without a charge.

Tariffs on products such as beef, pork and dairy -- which are all up around the 20 percent mark -- will be slashed in coming years.

Tariffs on alcohol, which in the case of spirits sits at an eye- watering 65 percent, will be also be removed within four years.

James Laurenceson from the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology in Sydney told Xinhua he expects trade between the two nations to increase dramatically once the tariffs are removed.

"Over the past year falling iron ore prices have meant that the value of trade between Australia and China has been reduced," he said on Wednesday.

"That said, China still remains Australia's biggest trading partner by a large margin. By reducing barriers to agriculture and services trade, ChAFTA will act to not only boost the overall value of trade between Australia and China but also make it broader-based."

"In short, it sets up a deeper and more balanced trade relationship in the future."

Drysdale said that while the resource boom was over, the new free trade agreement could restore balance to import and export levels between the two countries.

He also hailed the new agreement as a crucial step in connecting other Asian partners with trade.

"With ChAFTA done and the Trans-Pacific Partnership out of the way one way or another, energy can directed to regional cooperation in East Asia through Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in a way that buttresses the global multilateral trading system," he said.

The RCEP is a proposed trade agreement between several smaller South East Asian nations and powerhouses that already have existing FTAs between them, such as China, Australia, Japan, South Korea and India.

Drysdale said a closer connection between China and Australia could result in them working together in other sectors, not just trade.

"The agreement with Australia can provide a foundation for Australia and China to work together in the region beyond narrowly trade issues," he said.

Laurenceson said the ChAFTA agreement would also increase investment opportunities for the Chinese in Australian property and land, for it does not affect the foreign investment regime.

"It's important to remember that all this does is bringing China into line with what Australia already offers a number of other countries, including the United States, New Zealand, [Offshore Company Incorporation]Japan and S. Korea," he said.

"The investment relationship between Australia and China has tended to lag behind the trade relationship and ChAFTA will help to correct that imbalance."

China is already Australia's biggest trading partner, making up 23.8 percent of the country's total trade value.

In 2013-14, two-way trade between the two nations was measured at 123.7 billion U.S. dollars, but under the free trade agreement, that number is expected to rise.


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