ELIZABETH JACKSON: Well, as we've just been discussing, China wants Australia to relax the automatic scrutiny by the Foreign Investment Review Board of all investment by state-owned and controlled enterprises. And while that's a sensitive issue back here in Australia, the Abbott Government says it is willing to look at easing some of the restrictions.
Trade minister Andrew Robb, who is in China with the trade mission, spoke to our reporter Alexandra Kirk.
ANDREW ROBB: It is a very important issue how we treat the state-owned enterprises in China, because what we're looking to do is to properly recognise the role that many SOEs from China have already played as corporate citizens in Australia - the jobs they've created, the investment that they've driven, and the taxes that they've been responsible for, that have contributed to our quality of life.
That's our challenge. We need to be a bit creative in how we do this. The Prime Minister floated some idea with premier Li as a starting point, where we suggested that those companies that have got a strong record in Australia, and following the sorts of principles and approaches of typical private enterprise company, that they should be considered in a different way than maybe the treatment of SOEs generally within our Foreign Investment Review Board process.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Are you talking about different rules or no rules, for those enterprises that already have a track record in Australia?
ANDREW ROBB: Well, it depends where we finish up on how private enterprise companies will be treated. We haven't resolved any of these issues as yet. I don't think it will be fixed with one approach; I think it will be a combination of approaches in the end. But we have to work through that over the coming months with the Chinese government, and we need to also carry the community with the common sense and the rational approach that we're looking to take.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Your Coalition partners, the Nationals, are urging the Government not to relax the restrictions on Chinese investment in Australian farmland. Is there any risk of that happening?
ANDREW ROBB: I don't think that is an issue which is really entering into the equation. For all countries other than those that we'd already struck agreements with, the $15 million dealing on farmland before it goes to the Foreign Investment Review Board is going to apply to all countries, and I don't see this changing.
It really is how we treat SOEs in relationship to private enterprise companies.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Now, you've been reported as foreshadowing dropping the automatic scrutiny by the Foreign Investment Review Board of all investments by Chinese state-owned enterprises if they are investing in northern Australia. Is that right?
ANDREW ROBB: That's not a specific proposal that has been looked at as yet. We are looking for the possible encouragement, from all sources around the world, into greenfields projects in Australia. Obviously northern Australia would offer many of those sorts of opportunities, but not exclusively. There's many opportunities in other parts of the country in all sorts of industries for greenfields development.
We have to bring common sense and balance to these discussions if we are to capture the next round of unbelievable opportunities that are in prospect in China.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: And what gives the Government confidence that the free trade negotiations can be wrapped up in time for president Xi Jinping's visit to Australia in November?
ANDREW ROBB: Well, we have to go through lots of steps yet, but I've got to say there seems to be a will on both sides to deal with these difficult issues.
ELIZABETH JACKSON: And that's the Trade Minister, Andrew Robb, speaking from China to our reporter in Canberra Alexandra Kirk.
- Trade Minister's Office: (02) 6277 7420
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