ELEANOR HALL: The Federal Government appears confident that it will seal a free trade agreement with China by the time president Xi Jinping arrives in Australia for the G20 summit later this week.
The Australian and Chinese leaders are meeting in Beijing today at APEC.
Australia's Trade Minister says the deal is within “striking distance,” and would deliver massive opportunities for Australian businesses.
The Labor Opposition says the Government is being selective in the information it's willing to leak, and it's calling for more details of the negotiations to be made public.
But Labor's attack has been blunted by its leader repeatedly stumbling over details about tariffs.
In Canberra, Naomi Woodley reports.
NAOMI WOODLEY: Negotiations on a free trade agreement between Australia and China began in 2005, and almost 10 years later, they look set to conclude.
ANDREW ROBB: Nothing's ever agreed until everything's agreed but we are, I think, within striking distance.
And I don't see any reason why we shouldn't reach a conclusion before the visit of president Xi.
NAOMI WOODLEY: The Trade Minister, Andrew Robb, says the potential benefits for Australian businesses, particularly in the services sector, are huge.
ANDREW ROBB: It really is one of the landmark features of this agreement and one of the reasons why we must settle it this week, if we can, because there is so much opportunity sitting there for Australian service industries, manufacturers, resources and energy and agriculture, education, you name it.
NAOMI WOODLEY: But while the Government seeks to emphasise the growing market for services in China, farmers and the agriculture industry are closely watching to see if they'll achieve the same sort of access given to New Zealand farmers under their FTA with China.
The Nationals Senator for Victoria, Bridget McKenzie, says it's particularly important for the dairy industry.
BRIDGET MCKENZIE: At the moment, New Zealand has no tariffs, or decreasing tariffs, on a variety of dairy products, whereas our producers and processers are currently paying $31 million in tariffs, as part of their deal with China.
If we could get a New Zealand equivalent deal, that would be a $26 million saving to Australian dairy farmers.
NAOMI WOODLEY: Andrew Robb says agriculture has been the most difficult area to negotiate.
ANDREW ROBB: We have said from the outset that our objective on the agricultural front is to at least get a New Zealand equivalent.
Now that's been a very difficult issue for us, for 12 months now but we'll have to wait and see how we have gone.
But I'm very confident, again, that agriculture and resources and energy are going to do very well out of this agreement if we can pull it off.
NAOMI WOODLEY: The Nationals' Bridget McKenzie says she's confident the right deal will be signed.
BRIDGET MCKENZIE: Well, I'm confident that Minister Robb will only sign a deal with China that is in our national interest.
We have a very diverse economy. New Zealand doesn't have that diversity and so doesn't have to perform the array of balancing different commodity groups and services sector and exports against each other in order to construct a free trade agreement that's in its national interest.
Minister Robb, particularly given his background with the National Farmers' Federation, is very aware that the impact a New Zealand equivalent result in the free trade agreement will deliver back to the farm gate.
And I'm confident that he'll be doing everything in his power to ensure that occurs.
NAOMI WOODLEY: The Opposition's Trade spokeswoman, Penny Wong, says the Government has been reticent in releasing details of its negotiating position.
PENNY WONG: The Prime Minister set a year's deadline on this, and I know, you know, if you're going to sell your house, Fran, and you tell the market that you want to sell it in a year, that isn't the best negotiating position…
FRAN KELLY: Yeah, but we've been doing it for 10 years, to be fair.
PENNY WONG: But this government has said very clearly, we're setting this deadline come hell or high water.
NAOMI WOODLEY: This free trade agreement, like the Japanese and Korean FTAs earlier this year, present a fine balancing act for the Opposition.
It supports free trade but in the words of its leader Bill Shorten, it doesn't want to give the Government a blank cheque.
BILL SHORTEN: I think that there is a sustained government campaign to leak out the good news in advance, and indeed try and undermine any bad news which may be at the deal.
NAOMI WOODLEY: Yesterday on Insiders he made this remark about recent tariffs imposed by China on some Australian mineral exports.
BILL SHORTEN: It's not just a demand to say that China should lift the taxes it's put on our iron ore going into China.
Everyone knows iron ore prices are very low and now we've got extra taxes to pay on it.
NAOMI WOODLEY: China recently increased tariffs on coal, but not on iron ore. Bill Shorten was asked about it on AM this morning.
BILL SHORTEN: I agree with Andrew Robb that expansion of services into China is a great opportunity.
What I'm not hearing, though, is what's happened with the new tariffs that China placed on our iron ore.
What is happening with regard to sugar? What is also happening with regard to labour mobility agreements?
CHRIS UHLMANN: What tariffs on our iron ore? I'm aware of ones of coal but not on iron ore.
BILL SHORTEN: Well, my concern is that in the last few weeks, China has introduced new tariffs, in terms of…
CHRIS UHLMANN: On coal?
BILL SHORTEN: Yeah, in terms of our minerals industry. You're right, I should have said coal not iron ore.
But what I will also say is that, with the Chinese doing that, I don't know if they've done that as a ploy to put on a tariff and take it off, and the government look good for removing something which the Chinese were never serious about.
Or alternatively, was China serious in the first place about its tariffs, and has the Government been able to get them removed?
NAOMI WOODLEY: The answer to that question, and others, appear set to be revealed in just a few days time.
ELEANOR HALL: Naomi Woodley reporting.