Thursday, 6 March 2014
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Trade and Investment. Will the minister provide an update on the progress being made toward a free trade agreement with China, and what benefits would such an agreement bring to Australia?
I do thank the member for Bennelong for his question. He is a great supporter of good policy in trade and investment. Trade and investment with China is hugely important to Australia, but it cannot be taken for granted. In combination with South Korea and Japan, China makes up 51 per cent of all of our exports. Not only is China our largest customer for resources but it is our largest market for agricultural products, it is our largest market for foreign students, it is our largest market for tourists, it is our largest market for services and we have got a growing and very important source of foreign investment from China.
But while China is our biggest two-way trading partner, that same thing can be said for 123 other countries. The competition is intense. The world is acutely aware of the opportunities presented by China. So we need to do all we can to lock in our trading assessment relationship if we are to protect and grow our access to China in the years and the decades ahead. That is why the comments yesterday by China's Premier Li, advising that China would seek to accelerate negotiations with Australia on a free trade agreement are most encouraging and highly welcome.
Unfortunately, the eight-year negotiation stalled badly under the previous government—and I would suggest that the unwise comments from the member for Melbourne Ports give us a sense of why they failed. While Labor dithered, New Zealand got the jump on Australia and completed a free trade agreement four years ago. Since then New Zealand's sales of dairy products to China has increased by $2.2 billion. Over the same period, Australia's sales of dairy products to China have increased by less than $70 million. Clearly, New Zealand has comprehensively outgunned Australia. It shows that these agreements can make a huge difference.
Just last week our senior negotiators met again in Beijing to advance our negotiations, and after eight long years of negotiation there is every reason to believe that an agreement could be reached this year. It confirms yet again that the coalition government is in part driven by strong trade policy, not a strong trade union focus.