Australia did not sign a China Free Trade Agreement last week. It signed an agreement to agree to an agreement sometime in the future. That said, it is a good thing that we are inching closer to trade liberalisation agreement with the world’s second biggest economy.
When complete, the FTA will be the culmination of the work of four governments over a ten year period and a good thing for Australia. Just how good is unknown due to an inexplicable shroud of secrecy. We know much about what Australia “won” – lower tariffs on many of our agricultural products and better access for many of our services in to the huge China market.
What we know less about is what the Chinese “won”. In addition to the lowering of our own tariffs, I’ll be watching most closely what is happening with visitor-working rights and the mechanisms for challenging the business-impact of the decisions of the Australia Government. These so-called Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clauses allow foreign companies to go to an independent international arbiter if they believe they have been unfairly disadvantaged by a government decision. Not surprisingly, ISDS clauses have not been without controversy elsewhere around the world.
All that said, the China FTA will bring great opportunities to Australia but just how great will depend on how smart and strategic the Australia Government is in capitalising on those opportunities.
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