China chooses Australia as regional free trade pact partner

Australia has been chosen by China to be a key partner in a proposed regional free trade pact at a meeting attended by Asia-Pacific leaders.

Following the shock election of Donald Trump as US President last week, China is now working to fill the gap left by the US after Trump campaigned against global trade agreements.

According to Chinese officials, the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP) was one of the core tenets of
Beijing's agenda, and Australia was working hard to ensure the deal went through. Following outlines of policy recommendations, a joint study regarding the region-wide proposal, compiled by both China and Australia, is due to be announced at the upcoming Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Peru.

Wang Zhenyu, from the China Institute of International Studies, which is linked to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said: "We are putting a lot of expectations on the FTAAP in the coming APEC conference.

"We would like real progress not just words. China and Australia are also making efforts in pushing forward FTAAP."

China has been pushing the deal more than ever following news from the Obama administration that it would not be pursuing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as it could not be passed prior to the new President taking office at the beginning of next year. Mr Trump has already confirmed that he plans to scrap the deal once he becomes President in 2017.

Tan Jian, deputy director of the global economic department at the Foreign Ministry, said recently that the finalising of the deal would ensure that regional trade was stimulated and would lead to gains to US$2 trillion for Asia-Pacific countries by the year 2025, a far larger gain that would result from any other proposed trade agreement.

Calling the deal a "high level", "more open and balanced" agreement, Mr Jian said: "China will lay out an ambitious plan for the future work that is required to maintain the momentum in advancing the FTAAP."

Meanwhile, in Australia, Trade Minister, Steve Ciobo, confirmed to the Australian Financial Review that the country had "long been a supporter" of the FTAAP concept.

"In Peru I will work to conclude a collective study on the FTAAP, which sets out agreed actions towards a future free trade zone," he told the publication.

Alongside the FTAAP, China has also confirmed that it plans to finish negotiations on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, (RCEP) a trade deal between ASEAN, China, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India, by the end of this year. The FTAAP will, however, continue to take priority over this, the country added.

Peter Drysdale from the Australian National University's East Asian Bureau of Economic Research, said that the decision to push the FTAAP was the "right strategic response to uncertainties in the international trading environment posed by the failure to deliver TPP, the election of Donald Trump and Brexit in Europe.

"Active Chinese trade diplomacy of this kind is now crucial to keeping global trade diplomacy on course," he added.

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