Australia and China have signed a free trade agreement that officials hope will open up markets worth billions of dollars to Australian exporters. The deal was ratified after an address to the Australian parliament by the Chinese president, Xi Jinping.
President Xi told the Australian parliament that his goal is to double China’s national income by 2020 and create a modern socialist country. He is only the second Chinese leader to address MPs in Canberra. He said Beijing was dedicated to upholding peace, and received a standing ovation at the end of his speech.
Following his address, the Chinese leader ratified the free trade agreement. It is expected to open up markets to Australian farm exporters and the services sector while easing restrictions on Chinese investment in Australia. All tariffs on Australian resources will be scrapped under the deal, along with duties on beef and sheep exports. The trade pact will make it easier for Australian banks, insurance companies and universities to do business in China.
Xi said Australia is a prosperous and hard-working trading partner.
“Australia has a vast territory, rich resources and an advance[d] economy, and it is renowned for its diverse culture and unique landscape. It is not just a country on the sheep’s back, or a country sitting on mine casts. More importantly, Australia is a country of dynamism and innovation,” said Xi.
China is Australia’s biggest trading partner, and its appetite for iron ore and other resources helped insulate Australia from the worst of the global financial crisis.
But as Australia’s resources boom begins to fade, Canberra is keen to maintain prosperity through its services, manufacturing and agricultural sectors.
Senior government ministers insist the free trade agreement with China is one of the most important Canberra has ever signed.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott told parliament it was a day to remember.
“With free trade negotiations concluded and with a comprehensive strategic partnership established, this is a historic and memorable day. On behalf of the government and the people of Australia, I welcome His Excellency Xi Jinping on his first visit to Australia as president of China, but on his fifth visit to our country,” said Abbott.
Critics of the free trade agreement believe it could raise food prices for Australian consumers. Outside parliament, demonstrators urged President Xi to ease China’s grip on Tibet and end the persecution of religious groups.