This opinion article by Jennifer Westacott, Chief Executive of the Business Council of Australia, was published in The Daily Telegraph on 7 September 2015 under the title ‘ChAFTA is a must-do deal for Australia.'
When I think about the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA) — which is currently before federal Parliament for ratification — I think about a better future for all Australians.
Why? You only have to look at Australia’s economic growth rates to see what I mean. Over the past year Australia’s economy has grown by only 2 per cent. Yet the living standards we enjoy in Australia today have been delivered off the back of average annual growth over the past 30 years of 3 per cent. With growth now stuck well below our historical levels we need to find new ways to create jobs and lift our economic growth back up to the levels we have achieved in the past 30 years.
If we don’t, then we risk seeing our living standards suffer in the years ahead. ChAFTA can be the key to creating jobs and keeping our living standards high for years to come. It is the single biggest bilateral trade deal Australia has ever struck, and the best China has done with any developed economy in the world.
It will strengthen and grow our economy and is all about more jobs for Australians — more jobs in Australian businesses, which will grow and become more successful because of the massive opportunities to sell more products and services to China.
And ChAFTA means more jobs for Australians created by Chinese investment in projects and businesses here, and by Australian companies investing and expanding into China.
Our beef, dairy and sheep products will have the access to lucrative Chinese middle-class markets unlocked, tariffs will be removed on our coal exports, and new opportunities will be created for our services industries, which already account for about 80 per cent of our economy.
We must understand the competitive global environment we are operating in. If we don’t seize the opportunity presented by this agreement then our competitor countries will. Every week that goes by without this agreement being finalised is a week our competitors will take advantage of.
The National Farmers’ Federation says delaying ratification will cost rural communities $300 million in 2016. The coal industry says every week of delay will cost it about $4.6 million per week in extra tariff payments. And the Financial Services Council warns that if ChAFTA doesn’t proceed it will cost more than $4 billion and almost 10,000 jobs in financial services by 2030.
These aren’t just numbers, they are jobs. ChAFTA has a range of important safeguards that will maintain the integrity of Australia’s labour market, and which are the same as currently apply under our foreign skilled worker scheme.
This includes employers having to demonstrate that local workers aren’t available before they bring in any foreign workers, that they pay Australian market salary rates, and ensure any foreign workers have English language capabilities. Along with the requirement for employers to have training in place for local workers, these safeguards ensure Australian workers who are skilled for a job and want to do it will not be overlooked.
It is a matter of national importance that parliament ratifies ChAFTA urgently rather than be swayed by a mischievous and wrong union campaign that seeks to promote fear in the minds of all Australians.
There is now a roll call of Australian Labor Party leaders and luminaries lining up to unequivocally support ChAFTA, including former prime minister Bob Hawke, Bob Carr and Simon Crean, as well as NSW Opposition leader Luke Foley, South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill and Victoria’s Daniel Andrews.
It is truly bewildering that Australia would risk kicking the biggest economic own goal in its history by not supporting this agreement, which is overwhelmingly in our national interest. Australians who stand for a stronger future, and a future with growing living standards and growing opportunities for jobs, should all demand this agreement be passed.