The Australia-China Free Trade Deal Is Closer Than Ever

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is in Beijing for this week’s APEC forum and she told Fairfax Media that the Australia/China Free Trade Agreement is very close to being finalised.

“It’s looking very positive, and [Trade Minister] Andrew Robb assures me that the areas of negotiation have narrowed significantly, so we are quite optimistic, but there’s not an agreement until everything’s agreed,” Bishop said, adding that negotiations are continuing.

Separately, The Australian today reports that the deal between Prime Minster Tony Abbott and Chinese President Xi Jinping will be cemented in Canberra next Monday after this weekend’s G20 summit.

But there are remaining sticking points to the deal and while there is much focus on the upside from such deals, the reality is that trading away access to China for Australian firms and for Chinese firms’ access into the Australian market should always be judged against the total net gains that accrue to Australia.

So it is worth highlighting that the “at least $18 billion” in gains to the Australian economy over a decade the Oz highlights is around 1.5% of GDP in any one year. Over a decade, it is a very small sum.

Which might be why Bill Shorten is so keen to scrutinise the deal.

“What is in the deal? The government has been leaking out ­selectively good news — I just want to see all the detail and the government should tell Australians what’s really the case,” he told The Australian.

He added:

“I think a trade agreement is good if it works for your national interest. A trade deal is bad if it doesn’t. We’re interested in the creation of jobs and trade but not necessarily just signing up to anything like a blank cheque.”

It is a reasonable point and while protectionism is almost never a good thing, FTAs have losers as well as winners as competitors enter the local market.

In the end though, it seems like a deal is almost done with Trade Minister Robb saying, “We are aiming to try to conclude an agreement … in time for the visit of the Chinese President. That’s our hope, but let’s see what happens.”

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