SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Australia's government introduced legislation on Tuesday (Oct 15) to ratify trade deals with Indonesia, Hong Kong and Peru, key planks of its push to boost the economy via new export opportunities for agriculture businesses.
The government aims to push the trade deal legislation, which will remove many of the tariffs that have hindered two-way trade between Australia and the three economies, through both houses of Parliament by the end of the year.
The deals have been broadly welcomed by the country's large rural voter base, which has been struggling against drought conditions for three years. That has left farmers with the double whammy of both smaller crops and stiff international competition for the produce they are able to harvest for export.
"These agreements are going to provide significant new opportunities for Australian exporters," Trade Minister Simon Birmingham told reporters in Canberra.
"I want to make sure that we keep giving farmers and business the opportunity to sell more goods at better rates with better access into these key markets."
Australia's opposition Labor Party had indicated it would broadly support the trade deals, although it would likely seek concessions around labour market access to appease its union members. Any amendments to the legislation could slow its progress through Parliament.
In its trade agreement, Hong Kong guaranteed it would not impose any tariffs on Australian imports, allowing Canberra to maintain the status quo with its 12th-largest trading partner.
Two-way trade in goods and services between the economies is worth around A$17.8 billion (S$16.5 billion).
The Indonesia-Australia deal, agreed in March, will eliminate all Australian tariffs on imports from Indonesia immediately, while 94 per cent of Jakarta's tariffs on Australia's exports will be gradually removed.
Indonesia is Australia's 14th-largest trade partner, with two-way trade between the two totalling A$17.6 billion last year.
It is the largest buyer of Australian wheat, purchasing A$950 million in 2017-2018, along with around A$800 million of beef exports and A$181 million of sugar exports.
The trade deal was stalled earlier in the year when Australia recognised West Jerusalem as Israel's capital, straining relations with Indonesia, which is the world's biggest Muslim-majority country and supports a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian dispute.
The trade agreement with Peru, signed two years ago, will allow Australia to export 30,000 tonnes of sugar straight away, doubling to 60,000 tonnes within five years.
Within 18 years, the limit will rise to 90,000 tonnes.