Sat, 12 Mar 2005


Australia-China talks on track

BEIJING: China has agreed to include all industries in talks with Australia on a free-trade deal, the Australian trade minister said on Thursday, despite concerns that Beijing might try to exclude its fragile farming and services sectors.

"We start with everything on the table," minister Mark Vaile said after meeting Chinese commerce minister Bo Xilai.

Vaile was in Beijing in advance of an April visit by Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who he said would discuss trade.

With Chinese agreement to conditions for talks, the two sides are ready to sign off on a free-trade feasibility study later this month, Vaile said.

Next, Australia must decide whether to give China market economy status. Then, formal negotiations on a free-trade deal can begin.

China is a major buyer of Australian iron ore, coal and natural gas, and its imports of these raw materials are surging as its energy needs shoot higher.

Australia is also eager to ship more farm products such as grains and citrus fruits, but China considers itself a developing country in terms of agriculture and subsidizes its impoverished farmers.

China is also reluctant to allow competition in services such as banking. -- AP