THE National Farmers' Federation (NFF) has teamed up with the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA) and the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), to defend the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA).
The campaign launched today says Australia risks missing out on a surge in jobs and export opportunities if federal parliament delays approving the ChAFTA.
The three groups believe the trade deal will offer improved access to the nation’s largest trading partner, creating new jobs and economic opportunities across Australia.
They want Federal Parliament to ratify the ChAFTA before the year’s end, ensuring Australia benefits from more rapid tariff reductions.
They say the campaign will tell stories of Australian businesses across the farming, small business and minerals and energy sectors that “see enormous potential in the Chinese market but are burdened by restrictions on trade”.
“Australian exports to China already account for nearly 6 per cent of Australia's GDP, making it Australia's largest trading partner,” a statement from the three groups said.
“Worth $100 billion dollars annually, Australian exports to China are more than the combined value of Australia's exports to the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, South Korea, France, Canada and the 10 South East Asian nations of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).
“The trade agreement will deepen and broaden this relationship with one of the world's fastest growing economies.”
NFF president Brent Finlay said Australian farmers rely on trade and international markets to generate $42.4 billion for the Australian economy each year, with $9 billion in earnings from China alone.
"If the Parliament fails to ratify ChAFTA this year it will mean that farmers and the Australian community will miss out on two rounds of tariff cuts," he said.
"This will damage the competitiveness and affordability of all Australian products in China and set Australian agriculture back $300 million in 2016."
However, the statement did not specifically mention the unions that are targeting the agreement over concerns about inadequate labour market testing provisions and support from Labor.
ACCI CEO Kate Carnell said it was disappointing some groups created community fears that the agreement would lead to unqualified overseas workers.
"Their scaremongering is damaging to Australia's interests and our relationship with China, a key trading partner," she said.
"Many Australian small businesses are exploring export opportunities and China has enormous potential as a destination, so it is vital we make it as easy as possible for them."
MCI CEO Brendan Pearson said the agreement would eliminate tariffs that add nearly $600 million in costs to the bilateral minerals and energy trade, including about $380 million for exporters of thermal and metallurgical coal.
"A decision to block the trade deal is unthinkable,” he said.
“An extended delay will simply advantage our competitors in the Chinese market.
“This includes Indonesia, whose thermal coal exports enter China tariff-free courtesy of an earlier FTA while Australian thermal coal exports face a 6 per cent tariff impost.”
The campaign involves advertising across all major media platforms and other efforts to explain ChAFTA to the Australian community.
Last week the NFF launched a new website calling for public support and donations to assist their campaign backing free trade agreements.
On it, the public is being asked to make contributions towards the campaign, with $100, $500 and $2500 and “other” set as the guide for contributions.
Mr Finlay said the NFF wanted the general public to “come on board and support Australian farmers”.
“On this new website the public can contribute funds to help raise ongoing awareness about the value of free trade to Australian agriculture,” he said.
“We want to continue putting information out into the public domain on free trade because we believe there’s been a sense of disconnect about the importance of free trade and market access, for Australian agriculture.”
The union campaign in opposition to the ChAFTA has been described by senior government ministers as xenophobic and economically irresponsible.
But on Sunday, Leader Bill Shorten said he was asking the government to make sure that Australian jobs “don’t get done over in this rush to do this deal”.
“Labor believes you can have a good trade agreement with China and we welcome that but what we also want to do is make sure that Australians get first access to jobs in Australia and we are not satisfied with the government’s provisions to project Australian jobs,” he said.
Asked whether the opposition would block the deal in its current form Mr Shorten said, “let’s see whether the Government’s prepared to negotiate”.
“We’re going to put up sensible amendments,” he said.
“Labor’s proposition here is very straight forward, we supported the Japan trade agreement, we supported the Korean trade agreement, we’re up for supporting the China trade agreement.
“We want so make sure that Australians are not going to lose work when they’re available to do work in infrastructure.
“We want to make sure that people with appropriate skills are carrying out work in Australia for consumer safety and also to make sure that people are appropriately trained.”