Australia's Trade Minister Simon Birmingham addresses media outside the Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, Oct 16, 2019. (ROD MCGUIRK / AP)
SYDNEY - Australia's government introduced legislation on Tuesday to ratify trade deals with Indonesia, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and Peru, key planks of its push to boost the economy via new export opportunities for agriculture businesses.
The government aims to push the trade deal legislation, which will remove many of the tariffs that have hindered two-way trade between Australia and the three regions, through both houses of parliament by the end of year.
The deals have been broadly welcomed by the country's large rural voter base, which has been struggling against drought conditions for three years. That's left farmers with the double whammy of both smaller crops and stiff international competition for the produce they are able to harvest for export.
I want to make sure that we keep giving farmers and business the opportunity to sell more goods at better rates with better access into these key markets
Simon Birmingham, Australia's Trade Minister
"These agreements are going to provide significant new opportunities for Australian exporters," Trade Minister Simon Birmingham told reporters in Canberra.
"I want to make sure that we keep giving farmers and business the opportunity to sell more goods at better rates with better access into these key markets."
Australia's opposition Labor Party has indicated it will broadly support the trade deals, although it will likely seek concessions around labor market access to appease its union members. Any amendments to the legislation could slow its progress through parliament.
In its trade agreement, Hong Kong guarantees it will not impose any tariffs on Australian imports, allowing Canberra to maintain the status quo with its 12th largest trading partner.
Two-way trade in goods and services between the economies is worth around A$17.8 billion.
The Indonesia-Australia deal, agreed in March, will eliminate all Australian tariffs on imports from Indonesia immediately, while 94% of Jakarta's tariffs on Australia's exports will be gradually removed.
Indonesia is Australia's 14th largest trade partner, with two-way trade between the two totaling A$17.6 billion (US$11.84 billion) last year. It is the largest buyer of Australian wheat, purchasing A$950 million in 2017-2018, along with around A$800 million of beef exports and US$181 million of sugar exports.
The trade deal was stalled earlier in the year when Australia recognized West Jerusalem as Israel's capital, straining relations with Indonesia, which is the world's biggest Muslim-majority country and supports a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian dispute.
The trade agreement with Peru, signed two years ago, will allow Australia to export 30,000 tons of sugar straight away, doubling to 60,000 tons within five years. Within 18 years, the limit will rise to 90,000 tons.
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