Abbott to tour trade partners to push for FTA resolutions

PRIME Minister Tony Abbott will visit some of Australia's top trade partners in April to progress crucial talks on free trade agreements.

Mr Abbott announced the trip to Japan, Korea and China on Monday, countries which represent a whopping 40% of Australia's total two-way trade.

The largest-ever trade delegation to China will see up to 600 business executives join Mr Abbott for a series of events as part of Australia Week in China next month.

Mr Abbott said he expected to officially sign the Korean free trade agreement during the trip, as well as finalise similar agreements with both China and Japan.

Trade Minister Andrew Robb said while China was Australia's largest trading partner already, there was "great scope to deepen our relationship" beyond exporting resources and importing Chinese products.

"China's economy is changing; the focus on export and investment has shifted to the domestic consumption of an exploding middle class," he said.

"This growth will drive incredible consumer demand and open up new opportunities for Australia across so many areas compatible with our strengths; the things we do as well as any and better than most."

However, the talks could be marred by complications between China and Australia, after Foreign Minister Julie Bishop hit out at the Asian nation's announcement of a new "air defence zone" over disputed islands in the East China Sea.

But Mr Abbott said despite Ms Bishop's comments on the China-Japan dispute over the islands, he was still confident a trade agreement could be reached, saying it was possible "walk and chew gum at the same time".


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