Australia and China have signed a free trade agreement, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott hailing it as “history making” for both countries.
Giving each nation what the Prime Minister claimed as “unprecedented access to each other’s markets”, the deal removes barriers to Australian agricultural exports across a range of products including beef, dairy, lamb, wine, horticulture and seafood.
It also means duty-free entry for 99.9 per cent of Australia’s resources, energy and manufacturing exports within four years.
Both governments concluded negotiations on the free trade agreement (FTA) in 2014, but it was formally signed in Canberra in June by Australia’s Trade Minister Andrew Robb and China’s Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng.
“For China, this agreement liberalises the screening threshold for Chinese private sector investment in Australia and it puts Chinese businesses in the same position as those of our other major trading partners,” Mr Abbott said.
The full text of the agreement will be subject to an inquiry by parliament’s joint standing committee on treaties, paving the way for parliament to consider amendments to relevant legislation.
Labor’s Senate leader and trade spokeswoman Penny Wong said the party would assess the deal against the test of whether it would increase jobs and economic growth, as reported by The Guardian.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) raised concerns the deal would “make it much easier for employers to bring in Chinese workers without having to advertise jobs to local workers”.
The ACTU’s president, Ged Kearney, said the government appeared “intent on selling out even more local jobs”.
“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,” she said.
However, the Business Council of Australia’s president Catherine Livingstone said the agreement would unlock significant opportunities for two-way trade and “deliver lasting benefits for the whole community”.
The Australian Industry Group’s chief executive Innes Willox said industry had long viewed the agreement with Australia’s largest trading partner “with a mixture of optimism and trepidation”.