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Australia to launch free trade agreement talks with Hong Kong

Access for white-collar services businesses will be the focus as talks begin over a free trade agreement between Australia and Hong Kong on Tuesday.

Trade Minister Stephen Ciobo will meet with his counterpart, Gregory So Kam-leung, secretary for commerce and economic development, in Hong Kong, ahead of a round of negotiations to be held in Canberra later this month.

"This will be a very modern FTA, focused on services access," said Mr Ciobo.

"Services make up around 70 per cent of our economy and employ four out of five Australians, but account for just over 20 per cent of total exports."

The FTA will seek to improve access and conditions for Australian services exports to Hong Kong in education and fintech, and for professionals including lawyers and accountants.

It could for the first time allow Australian businesses to operate in the Asia-Pacific's finance capital, without having to establish an on-the-ground presence, his office said.

Hong Kong already has zero tariffs on Australia goods, but an FTA would seek to lock in these settings to provide business certainty.

"Concluding an FTA with Hong Kong will strengthen our relationship with one of our most significant trading partners," said Mr Ciobo.

"Over the past 10 years our bilateral investment relationship has increased by almost 10 per cent to over $136 billion Australian and two-way trade has increased by more than 5 per cent to $5.3 billion."

Around 600 Australian businesses have offices in Hong Kong, and 90,000 Australians live there.

Hong Kong was Australia's eighth largest export market and 12th largest trading partner overall in 2015-16, with total two-way trade in goods and services worth $15.3 billion.

The Australian services export market to Hong Kong was worth $2.4 billion in 2015-16, up 13.2 per cent from the previous year.

 Australia's top services exports were transport ($602 million), personal travel services ($549 million), education ($493 million), financial services ($191 million), and other business services ($342 million).

Hong Kong train operator MTR runs Melbourne's metropolitan train network, and is part of the consortium that will operate Sydney's first private rail line, the North West Rail Link.

MTR is seeking further contracts in Sydney and Melbourne for new train lines, including property development over railway stations, and said it welcomed FTA negotiations between Australia and Hong Kong.

"Such an agreement will further strengthen the close relationship between Hong Kong and Australia,"  said MTR chief executive Lincoln Leong.

Resort operator Far East Consortium International, which has partnered with casino operator Star Entertainment to develop Jupiters on the Gold Coast and the Queen's Wharf Brisbane integrated resort, also said it welcomed the negotiations.

May 16, 2017

Source: smh.com.au

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