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Australian FM: 'Ties with China at Their Best'
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Sino-Australian ties are "at their warmest in history" and Canberra is ready to step up negotiations with Beijing on a free trade agreement to bring the two sides much closer, visiting Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said yesterday.


He was speaking at meeting with Vice President Zeng Qinghong in Beijing.


Downer said his country welcomes China's rapid economic growth and rising international influence and is willing to strengthen collaborations with China on environmental protection, climate change and clean energy.


Eight rounds of negotiations on a free trade agreement between China and Australia have been held since May 2005, with the latest one taking place in Beijing from March 26-30. The next round will be held in Beijing in late June, the Ministry of Commerce said.


Talks have progressed slowly, held up in part because China is seeking freer trade in goods while Australia is aiming for negotiations to liberalize services.


"The economic basis of the Australia-China relationship is strong, but can be further strengthened by an ambitious and comprehensive free trade agreement," Downer said before his visit.


The minister, who arrived in China on Monday as part of a four-day tour that also includes Mongolia, met first with officials and the business community in Shanghai before coming to Beijing yesterday.


He will hold talks with his Chinese counterpart Li Zhaoxing tomorrow, which are expected to focus on key strategic issues including China's role in resolving the Korean nuclear issue and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' summit in Sydney later this year.


During an interview with AFP on Monday, Downer played down concerns that a security agreement reached between Australia and Japan in mid-March was meant to contain China.


(China Daily April 4, 2007)

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