Australian Opposition Seeks Safeguards on China Free Trade Deal

  • Labor Party says it's concerned about opening jobs market
  • Trade minister happy to talk, but won't change fundamentals

Opposition lawmakers in Australia will propose additional measures to assuage concerns that the free-trade accord with China goes too far in opening up the labor market.

Australia’s Liberal-National government concluded an agreement with the country’s biggest trading partner last November and the deal is still being reviewed by legislators. Penny Wong, who leads the opposition in the upper house of parliament, said her side will be proposing “complementary safeguards” on jobs when the matter is debated in the coming week.

“We’re long-standing supporters of a stronger deeper economic and political relationship with China, but the government has gone further in this agreement than in other trade agreements when it comes to opening up the labor market,” the Labor Party senator said in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Sunday. “The complementary safeguards that we’ll put forward, they won’t require renegotiation of the agreement.”

No Fundamental Changes

The China free-trade agreement is part of a series of trade deals that has been concluded by the Liberal-National government since it came to office in 2013. In addition to making bilateral deals with China, Japan and South Korea, it last week joined 11 other national governments to agree on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Trade Minister Andrew Robb said in an interview with Sky News on Sunday that he’s happy to talk about “anything that might assist this process, but we’re not going to discriminate against China and we’re not going to change the fundamentals in any way.”

He said that earlier discussions on the topic included a “huge wishlist” from the opposition and that they were seeking to use the FTA as an opportunity to change the country’s migration laws more broadly.

“If they wanted to change it they could have done so when they were in office,” he said. “But if they’ve got something sensible which gives them comfort, and we can do it, certainly we’ll talk to them about it, but we haven’t seen that yet.”

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