News Analysis: New Australian govt to focus on regional economic diplomacy

Source:Xinhua Published: 2013-9-11 16:28:01

Australia's new Liberal-National coalition government has said that it will focus on improving the country's relations with China and the countries of the Asia Pacific with particular emphasis on economic diplomacy.

"Our foreign policy assets military, defense, economic, trade, diplomatic and foreign aid will be focused not exclusively but unambiguously on our region and our focus will be on economic diplomacy," said incoming Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop.

Bishop said that a key element in the Liberal-National coalition's economic diplomacy will be a renewed focus on finalizing Australia's current free trade negotiations with China and other countries.

Australia is currently engaged in nine FTA negotiations - five bilateral FTA negotiations: China, Japan, Korea, India and Indonesia; and four multilateral FTA negotiations: the Trans- Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the Pacific Trade and Economic Agreement (PACER Plus), and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP).

The China FTA is considered a priority for the new coalition government, according to officials.

"It is likely that the broad ranging agreement will be refined so it can be signed in the near future and used as platform to build on further," officials said.

Australia and China started FTA negotiations in 2005 but little progress has been made during the tenure of the Labor Party.

A joint feasibility study carried out in 2005 found that an FTA with China could have boosted Australia's economy by 18 billion U. S. dollars over the period 2006 2015.

New Zealand signed an FTA with China in 2008 giving it a huge " first mover" advantage for exporting their products into China's fast-growing economy.

Two-way trade between Australia and China is about 125 billion AU dollars (116 billion US dollars), with minerals, resources, energy, higher education services and tourism growth areas for Australia.

"We have said on a number of occasions that we would seek to conclude the Free Trade Agreement with China as soon as possible," Bishop said in an interview with Xinhua weeks before the election.

"The coalition government commenced the talks in 2005 yet no conclusion has been reached. We believe that it's necessary for a Free Trade Agreement to be finalized. This should cover a much broader array of goods and services and investment should not only be in China's national interest but most certainly in Australia's national interest," Bishop said.

However, Kerry Brown, executive director of University of Sydney's China Study Center told Xinhua that any refinement of the FTA needs to deliver something that the Australian public, especially farmers, can really benefit from.

"They cannot do a deal that would be interpreted as against Australia's interests. If they can show that Australian companies have better access to the Chinese domestic market, then I think they will be able to make for more liberal inward investment policies," Brown said.

But Brown added that China's inward investment should be able to create good quality and sustainable jobs and is not just about extracting resources.

The Liberal-National coalition said it is committed to open markets, trade liberalization and promoting foreign investments.

"We do believe there is room for improvement in the Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) framework in terms of transparency, accountability and consistency," Bishop said.

The new coalition has proposed to lower the threshold that triggers FIRB scrutiny of investment from 244 million AU dollars ( 226.3 million US dollars) to 15 million (13.9 million US dollars), and to register foreign purchases of agricultural land.

Brown said now that the coalition is in power, "the issue is whether they will make it (the FIRB adjustment) a priority when there are so many other things to do, whether it makes economic sense to have extra scrutiny for this, and whether all this extra effort will be worth it."

Bishop said that the Abbott government is expected to seek a relationship with China that continues to be mutually beneficial on the economic side while also trying to engage more deeply on the political level.

The Liberal-National coalition will also establish a new Colombo Plan a program that will send Australia's best students to study in Asia to acquire new skills, ideas and perspectives. There will also be an emphasis on enhancing Australia's engagement with the region through language education in-country.

In a recent interview, Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott said that his first travel priorities would be to visit Indonesia, China, Japan and South Korea, ahead of visits to London and Washington.

Posted in: Asia-Pacific

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