Australia, China to resume free trade talks

CANBERRA, Aus. (Reuters) – Australia and China have resumed free trade after a delay of more than a year.

Australia says the move proves the two countries’ trading relationship had not been hurt by the arrest of Rio Tinto mining executive Stern Hu.

Relations between Australia and China plummeted in June 2009 over a failed bid by China’s state-owned Chinalco to buy a $20.5 billion Cdn stake in mining giant Rio Tinto and were then further strained with the arrest of Australian citizen Hu.

Australian trade minister Simon Crean said Australia had not yet been informed about a trial date for Hu, who has been indicted on charges of bribery and stealing commercial secrets.

“We haven’t got specifics on the date. We continue to urge expedition and transparency in his case,” Crean said.

“So far as the trading relationship is concerned, both countries understand the interdependence of each country on the other. There is a genuine desire to deepen and diversify that interdependency. That’s why the talks are back on track.”

Australia and China began talks on a free trade deal in April 2005, but they stalled after the 13th round of negotiations in Beijing in December 2008. More than 30 Chinese officials attended two days of talks in Canberra.

The two countries are aiming to reach a deal that could inject up to $131 billion extra into Australia’s resource-rich economy over the coming decades.

China is Australia’s biggest trading partner, with two-way trade worth $78 billion in 2008-09.

China bought more than $23 billion worth of Australian iron ore and coal.

Crean said agriculture remained the most serious remaining stumbling block, but added both countries had the political will to strike a deal.

The two have unresolved differences over the lack of strong rules to protect intellectual property in China.

“On agriculture, it remains sensitive and difficult. We understand the sensitivities in China, but we keep pointing out that we have been able to negotiate those sensitivities with other developing countries,” he said.

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