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Australia-China FTA Feasibility Study Well on Track

Australian Trade Minister Mark Vaile announced in Beijing Thursday that all issues of major importance had been resolved in finalizing the Australia-China Free Trade Agreement (FTA) Joint Feasibility Study.


"The Chinese Minister of Commerce Bo Xilai and I had robust discussions on the outstanding issues relating to the FTA feasibility study. These included agriculture, services and manufacturing," Vaile told a news conference.


Vaile is paying a visit to China from March 8 to 11. In addition to his meeting with Bo, he has spoken with Minister Ma Kai in charge of the National Development and Reform Commission, and Director Li Changjiang of the State Administration of Quality Supervision and Quarantine.


Vaile said both sides agreed that all sectors must be included in the future FTA negotiation, and FTAs must be consistent with World Trade Organization rules and have the potential to deliver substantial commercial and wider economic benefits to both countries.


"Once the remaining detail of the feasibility study has been finalized, ministers on both sides will present the recommendations to their respective governments," he said, adding that they expect the recommendations to be considered before Australian Prime Minister John Howard's visit to China in the first half of April.


This means China and Australia are expected to complete the FTA feasibility study by the end of March so as to pave the way for a nearly start of the FTA negotiations.


The joint feasibility study, announced as part of the Trade and Economic Framework signed by Australia and China in October 2003, was due for completion by October this year. But after making good progress, leaders of both countries have agreed that the completion could be ahead of the schedule.


According to the steps that have been agreed as necessary for China and Australia to begin FTA negotiations, if both governments accept the study's recommendations, Australia would decide whether to recognize China's status as a market economy for the purposes of the application of trade remedies. Should the Australian government make a positive decision on China's market economy status, then both governments would agree to commence the FTA negotiations.


Vaile said in Canberra on March 7 that by the terms of FTAs, Australia will recognize China as a market economy if the two countries begin negotiations.


Vaile told reporters that when he met with Ma Kai, they discussed further developing the energy and resources partnership between Australia and China, while discussions with Li Changjiang covered a number of agri-food market access issues, particularly those relating to access to China for Australian citrus.


China is Australia's third largest trade partner. The two-way trade reached an unprecedented level of US$20.4 billion in2004, according to China's official statistics.


(Xinhua News Agency March 11, 2005)

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