CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia wants bilateral free trade deals with Hong Kong, Indonesia and Peru to take effect early next year, the trade minister said Wednesday, adding that the Hong Kong treaty supports its unique status within China.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham introduced legislation into Parliament that would lead to Australia ratifying the three trade treaties.
Hong Kong student activists have called for Australia to write into the Hong Kong deal human rights guarantees, following widespread protests after the Hong Kong government attempted to legislate to allow extradition to China.
Birmingham said the Hong Kong agreement “gives practical reality and effect” to recognition of Hong Kong’s separate status within China’s “one country, two systems” framework.
Australia has had a bilateral free trade deal with China, its biggest export market, since 2015.
Australia’s bilateral agreement with Hong Kong largely modernizes and codifies existing trade and market access arrangements. A parliamentary committee that examined the treaty reported last month that it would provide trade certainty into the future.
“We have to take both a long-term perspective with Hong Kong and I hope an optimistic one,” Birmingham told reporters.
“We believe that implementation of the Hong Kong-Australia agreement does give life to ‘one country, two systems.’ It supports Hong Kong, its unique identity and status,” Birmingham added.
There’s no guarantee for the conservative government that the opposition will support the deals in the Senate, where the ruling coalition does not hold a majority of seats. Unions fear the Indonesian deal could enable insufficiently skilled Indonesian workers to enter Australia and take jobs from Australians.
Birmingham said he wants the Senate to pass the deals by December. The Indonesia government has told him it is working on a similar time frame, he said.
Hong Kong and Peru already have completed domestic legislative procedures to bring the agreements into force, Birmingham said.