ChAFTA a win for the bush: Robb

08 Dec, 2014 01:00 AM
Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb.
Chief among the beneficiaries are the rural and regional communities
Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb.

THE signing of the China-Australia free trade agreement (ChAFTA) marks a significant milestone in the history of this country; it heralds the start of a new era of opportunity that will benefit all Australians for generations to come.

Chief among the beneficiaries are the rural and regional communities around the nation – many of which are heavily reliant on the farming sector to keep local economies strong and townships thriving.

Along with being our biggest two-way trading partner overall, China is Australia’s largest agriculture and fisheries market, worth around $9 billion in 2013.

Given China’s rapidly expanding middle class, this market will inevitably grow, with China projected to account for nearly half of global growth in food demand to 2050.

Thanks to the ChAFTA, Australia is now in prime position to take full advantage of China’s demand for premium products, with the removal of tariffs on key agricultural products like dairy, beef, lamb, wine, fruit, vegetables, nuts and barley.

The National Farmers’ Federation, for instance, believes a tripling of agricultural exports to China is conceivable over the next decade.

In relation to those products highly sensitive to China, namely sugar, rice, wheat and cotton, we did not secure gains at this time, while we do have market access under global quotas. The door on preferential gains in the future certainly has not been closed.

ChAFTA has been very deliberately structured as a ‘live agreement’ which enables difficult outstanding issues for both sides to be revisited in just three years’ time with the prospect of further gains.

In the meantime, it is important to note that China has excluded sugar, rice, wheat and cotton from all of its other free trade agreements, so Australian farmers have not lost any ground against their competitors.

In terms of foreign ownership, I know there are some concerned about the impact of foreign investment, but it’s important to put this into some perspective. ABS data shows that 99 per cent of Australian farm businesses are fully Australian owned, while just under 90pc of farmland is fully Australian owned.

Under ChAFTA – and in keeping with the Coalition’s election promise – the Government will be able to screen investment proposals by private investors from China in agricultural land valued from $15 million, and agribusiness from $53 million.

The Foreign Investment Review Board will continue to screen all investment by Chinese State-Owned Enterprises, regardless of the transaction size. ChAFTA does not change this.

Since the First Fleet, Australia has relied heavily on foreign investment to drive growth and jobs; we’ve developed agriculture and we’ve developed the rest of the country on the back of waves of foreign investment from different sources.

Having spent 30 years in and around the rural sector, I’ve seen the benefits of this kind of investment first-hand.

The United States remains by far the biggest foreign investor, and these investments vary between foreign partnerships and full ownership.

But regardless of the type of investment – or where it comes from – investment equals growth, jobs and higher living standards.

Make no mistake, our free trade agreement with China will be transformational for the economies of rural and regional Australia.

Andrew Robb is federal Trade and Investment Minister.

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Jock Munro
8/12/2014 4:38:59 AM

We may have relied heavily on foreign investment since the first fleet but we did not sell our assets to foreign governments as we are now doing. For instance, the investment from the United States was via private corporations not state owned enterprises. Robb and his free market colleagues are hypocrites of the worst kind. They are firmly against any government intervention in Australia yet they allow foreign government enterprises to buy us out.
8/12/2014 4:58:30 AM

I feel it is presumptuous to claim the FTA as responsible for something we are yet to experience. However I welcome the dialogue it introduces. To me a bunch of door to door salesman with bags of money/bribes will be the way to open doors (I realise govt cant do that, yet that is how the world works). IMO the changing of the worlds reserve currency offers great opportunity, however as of yet I have no evidence of how we are securing ourselves as a premium producer. We need to look at the evidence, they have banned shipments of corn from the US based on contamination by GM, this hints to me
8/12/2014 5:03:55 AM

an opportunity if we separate ourselves from the pack. To claim you are a premium producer based on harmonised world standards is foolish. We need to identify ways of proving our claimed status, then we need to market it correctly. We also need to reform our banking industry so that values of land align with earning potential and realise the inflationary distorting effect of allowing them to create money. Our foreign investment laws need tightening up and I would like to be given proof of why we cant fund it ourselves (ie why we need foreign money?), as we allow our banks to create money?
John Newton
8/12/2014 5:29:19 AM

Don't forget the Chinese FTA is a tow way street. What goes out can come in.
8/12/2014 6:44:09 AM

Our record of signing with FTA's which genuinely have a net positive impact on the Australian economy is abysmal. We should be selling the goods we produce here rather than selling the farm.
8/12/2014 8:55:29 AM

Yes Jock, it is not just that our Government encourages our businesses to be sold out to foreigners, it is that they encourage it, knowing full well, it is done using the very Government interventions and support systems they forbid in Australia. It gets worse. The Australian governments intervene to force local businesses like farmers to foot the welfare bill within the highly regulated industrial award system, the native flora and fauna acts, OH&S, Insurance, and so on. Yet under the China FTA it will allow Chinese investors to by pass these regulations. It is treason.
8/12/2014 8:59:42 AM

Nice little Freudian slip there Mr Newton telling us that China can tow us away under the FTA!
Bushie Bill
8/12/2014 10:33:37 AM

Now aren't you just the wittiest of all the little RARAs, argie old son! I bet this will bring the house down in the front bar of the Nowheresville pub tonight, eh?
8/12/2014 12:37:03 PM

As I told you on another article on your useless ABC, on this site recently bushie, whenever I get criticised by a rusted on labor socialist and Gillard disciple like you, who has zero credentials for anything economic, philosophical, political or logical, I take it as a compliment.
Chick Olsson
8/12/2014 2:57:54 PM

The China FTA is a brilliant economic step by Tony Abbott and Andrew Robb. It is a formal recognition that both our countries have much to gain by partnering in wealth creation. It is a passport for all of us to have a go.
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