SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he is intent on finalizing a free trade agreement with China within the next 12 months, and is prepared to accept a watered-down deal in order to quickly cement an arrangement that has been negotiated since 2005.
“I want the agreement to be as comprehensive as possible, but I’ve always taken the view that you should take what you can get today and pitch for the rest tomorrow,” Abbott said late on Monday at the annual APEC summit, held on the Indonesian island of Bali.
“We will get the best deal we can (but) I can’t at this stage say it is going to include everything,” added Abbott, stressing the importance of Chinese foreign investment to Australian jobs and economic activity.
Negotiations have been delayed by Beijing’s concerns over opening markets to Australian food, while Australia wants China to do more to protect intellectual property.
Former prime minister Kevin Rudd urged a close to the trade deal after its 19th round of talks in June.
“It would be wonderful if a trip towards the end of the first half of next year was consummated with an agreement here,” said Abbott.
“That might be a little too optimistic, but our intention is to move as quickly as we can.”
Bilateral annual trade between Australia and China is worth around A$125 billion ($117.8 billion), and China’s thirst for minerals has fuelled 20 years of unbroken economic growth in Australia.
After a meeting with President Xi Jinping on Sunday, Abbott accepted an invitation to visit China and announced his intent to bring along numerous business leaders and premiers to further bilateral ties.
“The president made it clear to me how much foreign investment China hopes to make in coming years, and I want Australia to get a fair share of that foreign investment,” said Abbott. ($1 = 1.0611 Australian dollars)
Reporting by Michael Sin; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan