SYDNEY • Australia's main opposition Labor Party has said it is dropping its final objections to the passage of a landmark free trade agreement with China, clearing the last impediment to its ratification before the end of the year.
China and Australia sealed the trade agreement last year, significantly expanding ties between the world's second-largest economy and one of Washington's closest allies in Asia.
The deal, which Australia called the best ever between Beijing and a Western country, will open up Chinese markets to Australian farm exporters and the service sector, while easing curbs on Chinese investment in resource-rich Australia.
Centre-left Labor had held up passage of the deal through Parliament, over what it said was a lack of protections for Australian workers and issues with the visa regime for foreign workers. Trade unions aligned with the party fiercely opposed the deal.
Labor leader Bill Shorten said yesterday that the party had negotiated an agreement with the government to support the deal, after securing sufficient legal safeguards and protections for Australian jobs, wages and work conditions.
"Labor has now achieved what we believe to be satisfactory legal protections which weren't previously proposed, which means that Labor can now support the speedy passage of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement," he said.
China is already Australia's top trading partner, with two-way trade of around A$150 billion (S$151 billion) in 2013. On Monday, the two sides witnessed 14 commercial agreements between companies, worth potentially more than A$20 billion.
Australia needs China's help to transition from a reliance on exports of minerals such as coal and iron ore, to expanding its food and agricultural exports to a growing Asian middle class, moving from a "mining boom" to a "dining boom".
Once the agreement is fully implemented, 95 per cent of all Australian exports will enjoy duty-free entry into China, Australian officials have said.