Australia, Hong Kong Begin Talks on Free-Trade Agreement

CANBERRA, Australia--Australia and Hong Kong have begun talks on a free-trade pact, with Canberra hoping to expand on a two-year-old deal with Beijing and improve its access to the Chinese market.

Hong Kong Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung and Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo started talks Tuesday on a free-trade deal aimed at improving access for Australian services including education, fintech, mining services, accounting and the legal sector.

In return, Hong Kong is hoping Australia will ease barriers to lower-cost imports of textiles, jewelery and other goods passing through the city, building on two-way trade worth 5.3 billion Australian dollars (US$3.9 billion) last year.

"An FTA provides a unique opportunity to enhance collaborative ties and build upon the depth of expertise in Australia and Hong Kong," said Mr. Ciobo, adding that he hoped a deal could be concluded swiftly. "It would allow us to springboard off our relative economic strengths and capacities." he said.

More than 600 Australian businesses already have a presence in Hong Kong. Two-way trade in goods and services in 2016 was worth A$15 billion, far smaller than the A$136 billion relationship with China.

A comprehensive trade deal would, however, allow Australian companies exporting specialist services to be subject to lower import levies, competing with other countries that Hong Kong has free trade deals with including New Zealand, China, Chile and some European countries.

Australia has also been aiming to counter growing global momentum against free trade after Britain's Brexit vote and President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw the U.S. from an ambitious Pacific trade deal. Along with Japan and New Zealand, the country is trying to keep the Pacific deal alive as a smaller 11-nation grouping.

The conservative government was pursuing "an ambitious trade agenda and more trade agreements," Mr. Ciobo said, initially targeting deals with India and the European Union bloc, as well as Hong Kong.

Write to Rob Taylor at

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 15, 2017 10:24 ET (14:24 GMT)