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Mixed Reaction to Australia-China Free Trade Agreement

  • Phil Mercer

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, back center, watches as China's Minister of Commerce Gao Hucheng, second left, and Australian Minister for Trade Andrew Robb, second right, sign a free trade agreement between the two countries in Canberra, Australia

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, back center, watches as China's Minister of Commerce Gao Hucheng, second left, and Australian Minister for Trade Andrew Robb, second right, sign a free trade agreement between the two countries in Canberra, Australia

There has been a mixed reaction to a free trade agreement between China and Australia. The deal was formally signed Wednesday after years of negotiations.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the trade deal will “change our world for the better.” But like most bilateral agreements, there will be winners and losers.

According to the deal, 85 percent of Australian exports to China will be free of tariffs. Many farmers will benefit. Restrictions on exports of Australian beef and dairy products will be phased out over several years. Tariffs will also be cut on seafood and wine, but not rice or sugar.

There will be advantages for the resources sector, too. Duties imposed by China on imports of Australian coal will be scrapped. Legal firms will also have greater access to the riches of the Chinese market.

The agreement allows Chinese companies and migrant workers greater access to Australia. Firms working on projects in Australia that are worth more than $115 million will be able to bring in workers from China.

The labor movement has expressed concerns the deal could harm local employment.

“Australian workers will miss out on thousands of job opportunities. This agreement is going to provide Chinese investors that have projects over the threshold of AUD$150 million with guaranteed access to bringing oversees workers in to work on those projects. We've also got concerns for those workers that might come over here, that their conditions could be exploited by unscrupulous employers,” said Lance McCallum from the Electrical Trades Union.

Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng said the free trade agreement would boost the industries and benefit the consumers of both nations.

Gao said the agreement was the most liberal China had entered into with a trading partner.

China is Australia’s biggest trading partner. Two-way trade is worth around $124 billion.

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