Australian lower house passes Asean trade bill

Australian lower house passes Asean trade bill

Canberra, Australia: Australia’s House of Representatives on Wednesday passed legislation that would enable the country to join in a free trade agreement with its Southeast Asian neighbors and New Zealand.

The government plans to have the Senate vote on the legislation on Thursday to enshrine in law Australia’s participation in a free trade zone including the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations plus New Zealand.

Home affairs minister Brendan O’Connor said all 12 nations involved were passing similar laws before the free trade area comes into effect on 1 January next year.

“The agreement will reduce or eliminate tariffs across a region that is home to 600 million people and a region with a combined GDP of $3.2 trillion," O’Connor told Parliament on Wednesday.

“This means greater job opportunities in Australia," he said.

The trade pact was signed in February in the Thai resort town of Cha-Am.

While Australia’s major political parties support the deal, some lawmakers have questioned the value of other free trade deals Australia has negotiated to date.

Australia already has bilateral free trade pacts with Singapore and Thailand—both Asean countries—as well as New Zealand, United States and Chile.

The only three independent lawmakers in the House of Representatives released a union-commissioned report on Wednesday that argues a proposed bilateral free trade agreement with China would cost 26,000 Australian jobs.

“We’re most certainly not singling out China here," independent lawmaker Bob Katter told reporters.

“I personally would feel far more comfortable if it were a report saying we should reverse the United States free trade deal" which took effect in 2005, Katter said.

Asean also includes Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.