Seize historic chance in China-Australia FTA
On June 17, 2015, the much-anticipated China-Australia Free Trade Agreement was formally signed in Canberra, Australia. It is a significant event in China-Australia relations. Chinese and Australian leaders were fully committed to the FTA negotiations. President Xi Jinping reached an important consensus with his Australian counterpart on speeding up the negotiations and signing the FTA agreement at an early date. Premier Li Keqiang personally pushed the negotiation process forward.
As Chinese and Australian leaders pointed out in their congratulatory messages, China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, once signed, will provide a higher platform and stronger institutional safeguards for closer, complementary and win-win cooperation. It will help promote the economic integration process in the Asia-Pacific region as well as deeper integration and common development of the Asia-Pacific economies.
China-Australia Free Trade Agreement is one of the most progressive FTAs in trade and investment liberalization either has ever signed. China and Australia have made high-level commitments to each other on trade in goods, trade in services, investment and rules, meeting the objective proposed by Chinese and Australian leaders for a comprehensive and high-standard agreement with balanced interests.
A more open environment for market access. Compared with the liberalization level of around 90 percent in FTAs in general, China-Australia FTA shows a substantially higher level of openness in trade in goods. At the end of the staging period, 100 percent of Australian products to China in terms of both tariff lines and trade volume will enjoy duty-free treatment, and close to 97 percent of Chinese products to Australia in terms of tariff lines and 97 percent of trade volume will be duty-free.
This means that consumers will have access to more high-quality agricultural, energy, mineral and finished industrial goods imported from the other country at lower prices. On the investment front, the two countries will accord MFN treatment to each other, open wider the services sector, and significantly lower the threshold for investment review. Such substantive measures will boost bilateral cooperation in a wide range of sectors, from infrastructure, energy and resources, to finance, tourism and agriculture.
A more enabling business environment. In the agreement, China and Australia have explored in a pragmatic way further opening in multiple sectors, including e-commerce, intellectual property, government procurement and trade facilitation, some of which have reached the highest level of liberalization so far.
Take e-commerce as an example. The agreement provides for duty-free e-commerce transactions, protects online consumers and data, and encourages the use of digital certificates, which will make online trading easier for both businesses and consumers from the two countries. Australia will set up a new facilitation scheme for Chinese engineers and technicians to work in Chinese invested projects in Australia, which is the first time that such a special arrangement is offered by a developed country to China. These substantive facilitation measures are sure to further improve the business environment and incentivize mutually beneficial cooperation between the two countries.
Closer people-to-people and cultural exchanges. While boosting the commercial ties, the FTA will also deepen people-to-people and cultural exchanges at various levels. Australia will provide working holiday visas to 5,000 young people from China every year, which will allow the holders to stay in Australia for up to 12 months. Besides, Australia will offer an annual entry quota of 1,800 people for occupations with Chinese characteristic, including TCM practitioners, Chinese language teachers, Chinese chefs and martial arts coaches, who can stay in Australia for up to 4 years. This will further boost people-to-people exchanges.
China-Australia FTA has set a successful example for cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region. Though both are major economies in the world, China is the largest developing country whereas Australia is a mature developed economy. The two countries have distinctively different cultural backgrounds, different levels of development, complementary industrial structures and some differences in values. After a decade of negotiations, China and Australia have eventually reached a comprehensive and high-standard Free Trade Agreement with balanced interests. The agreement is not only an embodiment of the bright prospects of complementary and win-win cooperation between the two countries, but also, in itself, a step forward towards more inclusive and diversified global economic governance.
China-Australia FTA has made pragmatic explorations in many areas of opening-up. Take trade in services for example, which is a stumbling block in international trade negotiations. The two countries have vastly different administrative regimes and core concerns. But through candid and practical consultations, Australia finally agreed to open its services sector in a negative-list approach, while China, based on itsWTO accession commitments, will open part of its services sector in a positive- list approach and commit to adopting a negative-list approach in future negotiations with Australia in this area.
China-Australia FTA is a major step towards Asia-Pacific economic integration. The 22nd APEC Economic Leaders Meeting in 2014 decided to launch the process of building the Asia-Pacific Free Trade Area (APFTA). It requires the concerted efforts of all parties to fulfill this vision. Nowa free trade agreement has been signed between two major economies— China and Australia, and the two sides have agreed to jointly explore the further opening of the services sector by adopting a negative- list approach. It is the shared belief of the two countries that China-Australia FTA, once upgraded, will be a strong boost to the development of high-level economic and trade arrangement in the Asia-Pacific region, and play a leading and demonstration role in the further opening up of the region.
The author is Minister of Commerce of China.