Australia enters largest ever trade pact

Colin Brinsden, AAP Economics and Business Correspondent
·2-min read

Australia has entered into the biggest trade agreement ever, a 15-nation partnership that accounts for nearly a third of global output.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Trade Minister Simon Birmingham signed the regional comprehensive economic partnership on Sunday, an agreement that covers around 30 per cent of the world's population.

"This is a huge accomplishment," Senator Birmingham told reporters in Canberra.

"This is an incredibly important agreement in terms of the timing ... we see huge pressures globally on the trading system and of course pressures Australia faces too."

Aside from goods trading, the agreement also provides a common set of rules for digital trade and intellectual property, while providing better market access for Australia's services industries - such as financial services, health care and education.

Australia, Japan, China, South Korea, New Zealand and the 10 members of ASEAN will be part of the deal.

Senator Birmingham is disappointed that India is not part of the final agreement, but says it still provides a huge platform for Australia to deliver more exports, creating more jobs.

However, he welcomed the fact Australia and China have been partners in this agreement, which has been eight years in the making.

"It is an important sign of our willingness to work in regional cooperation and regional economic partnership," Senator Birmingham said.

"There are difficulties at present and I am deeply concerned by the fact that in a number of areas Chinese regulatory actions have disrupted trade flow."

Labor said the new agreement doesn't fix Australia's problems with China.

"We've got big problems with China at the moment, problems getting goods into China," Labor frontbencher Jason Clare told reporters in Sydney.

"It strikes me that it's pretty extraordinary that after being in government for seven years, this government can't get anyone in Beijing to answer the phone."

However, he said fact this new agreement has been concluded is a good thing.

"But we've got to see what's in it," he said.

Business groups saw the trade agreement as critical for Australia's recovery from the COVID-19 recession.

"Australians need jobs and selling more of our world class products and services to the world is one of the best ways we can create them," Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott said.

"Our success over the last 30 years has been built on trade and investment with Asia. This agreement will help lock in a new wave of growth and new jobs just when we need it most."

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said the agreement will put Australia and the Asia Pacific region at the forefront of modern trade rules.

"While the FTA gives limited new market access to individual markets, the uniform rules for trading in the region will support regional supply chains and improve the international competitiveness of Australian companies," he said.