Robb makes Chinese trade agreement a priority

STRICTER rules on foreign investment could create a key stumbling block for new Trade Minister Andrew Robb to negotiate free trade agreements with China and other Asian nations.

Mr Robb, who was sworn into Prime Minister Tony Abbott's Cabinet on Wednesday, has said the execution of the trade agreement with China was a key priority for him in the portfolio.

But the negotiations, which have been largely stalled for several years, may hinge on a likely request from the Chinese to ease strict new rules on foreign investment in Australia.

A key demand of The Nationals to form Coalition government, the new rules will include increased scrutiny of overseas investments in agriculture land.

And while Mr Robb said he planned to strike a deal as soon as possible with key Asian economies including China, the stricter rules might prove a sticking point in future talks.

Currently, the rules allow for investments of up to $1 billion from United States-based companies in Australia, but the changes will mean all other investors will be scrutinised for any investment over $15 million.

Mr Robb said on ABC Radio on Wednesday he believed Australia had a right to "sensibly look at the ownership of land within our country".

But the new Trade Minister also intimated he did not see such issues as "a deal-breaker", instead focussing on reaching a deal "that might not be 100% satisfactory", citing similar overseas trade negotiations.

"We'll be looking to do something that will advance a number of industries and advance both countries, but try to get something in place that we will then build on over time," he said.


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