AGRICULTURE will be the most challenging part of securing a free trade agreement with China, according to federal agricultural secretary Richard Colbeck.
In opening the ABARE regional outlook conference at Toodyay last week, Mr Colbeck acknowledged not all Australiaís agricultural industries, such as horticultural, were in favour of a FTA with China.
³While a number of agricultural industries strongly support the government¹s agenda, some industries are concerned about the potential for increased competition from imports as a result of these negotiations,² Mr Colbeck said.
Mr Colbeck said the Australian Government would continue to consult closely with industry to ensure its priorities and concerns were taken into account but that there would have to be some give and take on both sides.
³Our very active trade agenda clearly has the potential to open up valuable additional export opportunities for Australia¹s agricultural and food industries,² he said.
Mr Colbeck said the value of Australian agricultural exports to China had trebled in the past decade and in 2004 was worth $2.5 billion.
³China is already our third largest market for agricultural products,² he said.
He said an FTA with China was an important opportunity to address many of the tariff and non-tariff barriers faced by Australian agriculture.
³Some of our key agricultural exports, wool, wheat and sugar are affected by restrictive tariff rate quotas and high tariffs,² he said.
³We will seek to address these traditional types of restrictions on trade.
³It is important to bear in mind negotiations with China are still at a very early stage and it is not possible to speculate about specific results at this time.²
Australia has begun FTA negotiations with China, Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) as well as a regional FTA with New Zealand and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Mr Colbeck said Japan had agreed to carry out a feasibility study for an FTA with Australia.
³This process has only commenced but has the potential to improved Australia¹s access to what is already a major market for agricultural exports,² he said.