Former Australian Prime Minister Robert Hawke said Friday afternoon that a Sino-Australian free trade agreement will not be clinched within just one or two years. A great deal of negotiation will be required, he said, before any agreement can go to the two countries' top legislatures for approval.
One of the founders of the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA), Hawke appeared at a press conference prior to the opening of the BFA Annual Conference 2004.
Australia and China agreed to look at the possibility of a free trade deal when President Hu Jintao visited Canberra in October last year. The two sides have set a deadline of October 2005.
There have been signs that Australia hopes to accelerate trade pact talks with China, its third largest trading partner. Australia is China's ninth largest partner.
Australia Trade Minister Mark Vaile will reportedly co-chair a Joint Ministerial Economic Commission meeting in Beijing with Chinese counterpart Bo Xilai after the Boao Forum.
Hawke said that while he welcomed the upcoming talks, he was not optimistic about quick results. While negotiations are deepening, he stated, Australia must determine whether China is a developed country.
That status will affect anti-dumping issues, but it is a sticky point with several countries. The United States and EU still have not granted China market economy status, although New Zealand announced it last week.
"Trade ministers from different countries will attend the Boao Forum, which provides a good occasion to discuss multilateral trade," Hawke said, anticipating that solutions to problems would be developed through multilateral negotiations.
Hawke noted that many developed nations have declined to open their farm produce markets to developing nations, a position that has blocked the Doha round of WTO talks.
He urged the Boao Forum to stress the matter in order to promote multilateral talks and open trade in farm goods.
(China.org.cn by staff reporter Tang Fuchun April 24, 2004)