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Australia on Target to Ink Asia FTA Deals Within Year, Robb Says

Australia’s free-trade agreement talks with China, Japan and South Korea, its three biggest export markets, are on target to be completed within a year, Trade Minister Andrew Robb said.

“It’s quite clear that they want to complete things as quickly as possible, they’re all talking about doing it within 12 months,” Robb, whose Liberal-National coalition came to power in elections last month, said in a Bloomberg Television interview in Hong Kong today. “It’s a stretch target, but we think we can do it.”

Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced in his Sept. 7 victory speech that Australia, the world’s 12th-largest economy, was again “open for business” after promoting his party’s financial-management credentials during the election campaign. He appointed Robb to make headway on free-trade deals with Asian countries also including India and Indonesia, alongside the broader Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

Abbott has said he wants to encourage foreign investment, although he told an audience in Beijing last year that Chinese purchases of Australian assets were complicated by the prevalence of state-owned enterprises. He also plans to lower the threshold for foreign purchases of agricultural land requiring regulatory approval to A$15 million ($14.4 million) from A$244 million currently.

Robb, who has held free-trade talks in Asia during the past three weeks, said his government was willing to compromise in its bid to ink a deal with China. Australia’s two-way trade with the world’s most populous nation reached A$117.7 billion last year, spurred by appetite for its resources such as iron ore and coal. About 30 percent of Australia’s 2012 exports were to China.

China Negotiations

Should China and Australia be prepared to meet half way in negotiations there was every chance of concluding “quality agreements,” Robb said. “So we see a lot of action across agriculture, we see a lot of action across services, we see action on the investment front,” he said. “The products that we provide best are the things that Korea and Japan and China need. In reverse, so much of the capital that we need to continue to grow our economy” will come from the region.

Regarding the TPP, the “ingredients” were in place for a final deal to be completed this year, Robb said. Negotiators still aim to complete the 12-nation TPP trade talks this year, leaders of the countries said in a statement Oct. 8. An agreement would link an area with about $28 trillion in annual economic output.

“There’s still a need to put on the table all the final market-access issues” for the TPP to be finalized, he said. “If there’s common sense and a bit of give and take in all of those 12 countries, again I think it’s quite possible to conclude this year.”

Australia’s ban on Huawei Technologies Co., China’s largest maker of telecommunications equipment, by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard in 2012 from helping to build Australia’s national broadband network hasn’t been discussed with Chinese officials, Robb said. While his government is reviewing the ban, the issue isn’t connected to the free-trade agreement negotiations with China, he said.

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