China and Australia have concluded the third round of talks on a free trade agreement (FTA), ending the first phase of bilateral negotiations. Meetings took place in Beijing on Friday.
Ric Wells, chief negotiator for Australia, said that the two sides exchanged information about their trade systems and answered detailed questions about trade and investment.
"The information exchanges provided a base for the next phase of negotiations," he said.
"We have achieved what we expected (in this round of talks)," said Zhang Xiangchen, director with the World Trade Organization Department of China's Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM), who headed the Chinese negotiating delegation.
The officials said they had not yet put forward their views on some essential issues such as the opening up of the agricultural market, as they have not yet entered the substantial negotiating phase.
Wells said he expected the two countries to start negotiating on more substantial parts of the free trade agreement in the next round of talks, expected to take place in Australia early next year.
Both sides are preparing for further negotiations on issues including market access, tariffs and agricultural affairs.
Zhang said current FTA negotiations with Australia were some of the most important for China because of the potential scale of trade compared with other countries.
The Sino-Australian FTA talks were officially launched in April this year after a joint feasibility study conducted by scholars from both sides.
It showed that if the two countries could eliminate barriers in trade and investment by 2015, that could help to increase China's gross domestic product by US$70 billion and Australia's by US$25 billion.
According to statistics from MOFCOM, bilateral trade between the two countries rose by more than 50 percent to 20.39 billion in 2004 from 2003.
China's exports to Australia stood at US$8.84 billion last year, reflecting an increase of 41.1 percent from the previous year. China's imports from Australia reached US$11.6 billion, up 58.3 percent year on year.
(China Daily November 5, 2005)