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MPs welcome free trade agreement

Geoff Helisma

Page and Cowper MPs, Nationals Luke Hartsuyker and Kevin Hogan, have lavished high praise on their government’s signing of a free trade agreement (FTA) with China.
In a press release, Mr Hartsuyker said it was a “win for households and businesses alike”.
He said the dairy and beef industries and berry growers would benefit from the FTA.
“The removal of tariffs on these products will stimulate further significant growth in this market, which will support growth in our local economy,” he said.
Mr Hogan said the agreement “will deliver significant benefits for both the Northern Rivers and Clarence Valley … higher living standards and jobs, jobs, jobs”.
“Whether it’s Norco exporting fresh milk, Kimberly Kampers or macadamia farmers, this agreement will help to underpin our local businesses for years to come,” he said.
“Households and businesses will also reap the benefits of cheaper goods and components imported from China, such as vehicles, household goods, electronics and clothing; placing downward pressure on the cost of living and the cost of doing business.”
Mr Hartsuyker said: “The signing of the China-Australia FTA follows the recent signing of free trade agreements with Korea and Japan.
“These agreements are only months old and already they are generating benefits for Australia, like a 26 per cent increase in frozen beef prime cuts to Korea and an 84 per cent increase in the same product to Japan.
“Macadamia exports to Korea have more than doubled and Japan is importing 82 per cent more of our rolled and flaked oats.
“Increases have also been seen in wine, lamb, horticulture and many other products.”
The agreement will enter into force after the completion of domestic legal and parliamentary processes in China and Australia, including a review by the Australian Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, and the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee.
But all are not happy about the FTA: the unions fear the agreement will disadvantage their members, as a result of conditions within the memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the two countries.
The MOU allows Chinese workers to enter the country and stay for up to three months for related infrastructure development projects substantially owned by Chinese companies, which are worth $150m or more.
The Investment Facilitation Arrangement (IFA) “will set out guaranteed occupations and the terms and conditions against which overseas workers can be nominated for a temporary skilled visa for the purposes of the eligible project”.
Unions have criticised the $150m threshold as being too low and allege that Australian workers could find themselves locked out of jobs.
The ACTU has called on the government “to finally come clean on the impact it will have on jobs and unemployment”.
Meanwhile, independent South Australian senator, Nick Xenophon, says in a press release that the China FTA is “a raw deal for our sovereignty”.
He has warned that the FTA will “damage Australia’s sovereignty by including a so-called investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clause”.
“An ISDS means Australian governments, at state and federal level, can now be sued by Chinese firms adversely affected by policy decisions here – this is totally unacceptable to our sovereignty,” he said.
He cited “a little-known clause in a 1979 Hong Kong-Australia trade deal, now being used by tobacco giant Philip-Morris to sue the Australian Government over plain packaging legislation”, as an example.
Senator Xenophon said four free trade agreements, finalised since 2003, with the United States, Chile, Singapore and Thailand, have led to worsening trade imbalances and higher volatility.
Citing Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, Senator Xenophon said that, “whereas trade deficits with the four FTA partner countries were manageable prior to, and at the time of the signing of FTAs, the deficits have since accelerated”.
“This is not free trade, it is unbalanced trade that gives greater benefits to the other nation,” he said.
Australia’s monthly trade deficit in April, $3.9billion, was its worst ever.