China trade blitz pays dividends

Companies are on track for a $1 billion pay-off from Tony Abbott’s visit to China as they sign investment deals negotiated during the federal government’s trade blitz.

As the Prime Minister prepares for a similar business dele­gation to the US next month, an official report has identified 20 deals that resulted from the Australian trade promotion last month.

The Austrade analysis found that there were 13 commercial agreements in areas such as dairy exports, building technology, solar power and financial services, as well as seven other “significant” agreements.

Trade Minister Andrew Robb drew on the findings last night to make the case for “real, concrete outcomes” from a trade mission that took almost 600 companies to Shanghai and three regional Chinese cities.

“Even more importantly, there are also the intangibles,” Mr Robb said. “We built trust. We built relationships.

“And undoubtedly we built momentum in the free-trade negotiations — both by showing the strong commercial ties between our countries and the political will for an agreement.”

The combined value of the 20 commercial agreements is estim­ated in the Austrade analysis at $894 million, while there were separate agreements worth $57m to draw Chinese investment into Australian companies.

Mr Robb’s trade mission was the largest of its kind to China and was joined in Shanghai by a dele­gation of 20 top chief executives who accompanied Mr Abbott.

In one deal struck during the visit, the Victorian company Pactum Dairy Group signed a contract to export more than 25 million litres of milk a year to Bright Dairy of China.

The Victorian town of Shepparton, which was at the centre of the debate over the future of fruit company SPC Ardmona, is one of the winners from the contract as Pactum expands its dairy facility to meet the new demand.

In another deal, Blerick Tree Farm in West Gippsland formalised a deal to supply ornamental trees to China, where the landscaping industry is still being developed amid mammoth construction projects.

Solar-power developer RayGen resources signed a $60m deal to supply concentrated photo­voltaic technology to China.

In the health sector, Blackmores struck a deal with Chinese online retailer Glamour Sales to sell vitamin and dietary supplements.

At a formal lunch on the last day of the visit, Chinese Vice-Premier Wang Yang signalled the progress on a free-trade deal by telling Mr Abbott he expected a “bumper harvest” on bilateral ties later this year.

Mr Abbott heads to North America next month for meetings with US President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, two key figures in talks on regional trade pact the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Based on the results from the Asian mission, the Prime Minister’s office is preparing a similar business delegation to the US.

More from David Crowe