Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Monday put forward an ambitious plan to lock down a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China, which has been stalled since 2005, within the next 12 months.
Abbott, who is attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings in Bali, told reporters that he was upbeat of relations with China and was confident of being able to finalize FTA negotiations before the end of 2014.
"I am confident we can get a good agreement in 12 months. Let's face it, the Kiwis, our friend across Tasman, have had a serious FTA agreements including one with China, which have been very good for their economy, particularly for their agriculture exports. They managed to go from start to finish much more quickly than we have been able to manage over the last few years of the former government. And I think we can do a lot better than that," he said.
Abbott met Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday evening and expressed strong interest in doing business with the fastest growing economy in the world.
"China's growing strength is a benefit to the world, not a challenge," Abbot was quoted as telling Xi during bilateral talks while also accepting an invitation to visit China in the middle of next year.
However, the Prime Minister admitted it is unlikely the FTA could be finalized by mid-year to coincide with his visit to China.
"But our intention is to move as quickly as we can and I have to say I would be disappointed if we can't conclude a significant FTA with China within 12 months."
Abbott has also taken time to explain the main stumbling block of the FTA, which is scrutiny by Australia's Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) on investments by state-owned enterprises.
"That doesn't mean state-owned enterprises can't invest in Australia...we want them to invest in Australia, it is just that they face FIRB scrutiny from the first dollar, rather than simply at the standard 240 million U.S. dollar threshold," Abbot told Xi, adding "We welcome foreign investment, including foreign investment from China."
"I firmly believe that as important nations in the Asia-Pacific region, China and Australia entering into closer cooperation not only serves common interests but will also add positive attitude to the region and also peace and development of the whole world," the Chinese president was quoted as saying after the two leaders met.
"China is ready to work with Australia to continue to substantiate China-Australia's strategic partnership to ensure greater progress in the cooperation between our two countries, given there is acceptance in this way will bring greater and more benefits to the people of the two sides," Xi had added.