FTA scaremongering slammed

Rueben HaleThe West Australian

Farmers are keeping their fingers crossed that new Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will not sway from ratifying the Australia-China Free Trade Agreement.

If the FTA goes ahead, the agriculture sector stands to benefit greatly from unprecedented enhanced access to commodity markets of the world's second-largest economy over coming years.

But Labor and the union movement are angry about the effect it could have on Australian workers' jobs and conditions, fearing the agreement allows Chinese labour into the country without adequate proficiency tests.

Last week, former * *prime minister Tony Abbott implored industry to recognise how big an opportunity the agreement was for exports and jobs, while accusing the Opposition, Australian Council of Trade Unions, and Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union of a xenophobic campaign.

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The issue seems to be increasingly dividing Labor, with former prime minister Bob Hawke urging Federal Labor to support the agreement.

Peak agricultural body Grain Producers Australia said the FTA must proceed.

GPA chairman Andrew Weidemann said the fundamental issue in the agreement was Australia's improving trading relationship with China, which was all about a willingness to do business.

"The notion that Australia would go back on an agreement it has already signed with a major trading partner just beggars belief," he said.

"It's is about attitude, which in turn begets behaviour and a willingness to find solutions that facilitate trade outcomes."

Voice of Horticulture, supported by Apple and Pear Australia Ltd, has also backed calls for a prompt resolution to finalise the agreement.

VOH is Australia's largest organisation representing fruit growers and the 60,000 people that are employed in the $10-billion-a-year horticulture sector.

VOH chairwoman Tania Chapman said Australian horticulture had the potential to grow many times over with the growing demand for Australia's 'green' and safe agriculture produce.

"This can only be achieved in the major markets of Asia with FTAs that bring down the barriers to trade," she said.

Pastoralists and Graziers Association free trade agreement spokesman Gary McGill said free trade agreements between nations have shown to provide substantial benefit to everybody all round.

"This type of agreement has also shown to have been a huge benefit to our agriculture industry over a long period of time," he said.

Mr McGill said the union movement was disingenuous with their claims of concern about Australian workers' jobs.

"This agreement won't mean that we have people pouring into the country and taking up people's jobs for lesser pay and conditions," he said.

"In the document there are rules to prevent this type of thing occurring and all it needs is adequate government oversight."

Lancelin cattle farmer and chairman of Evergreen Farming Bob Wilson, who breeds cattle for live export, said Australia must not miss the opportunity of signing such an important agreement.

"The size of the Chinese market is unbelievable and that's what farmers and other Australian producers are pinning our hopes upon - having another large player in the market," he said.

"From an industry point of view as a WA beef farmer, this agreement would give me the confidence to spend money."

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