Australian farmers are trying to reassure their Chinese counterparts about the merits of their free trade agreement, in the face of a vocal union campaign.
The Nationals Farmers Federation is part of a contingent that has headed to China, concerned about an advertising blitz by the CFMEU over the impact on Australian jobs.
“It’s been very important for us to reassure our Chinese colleagues and government counterparts that we’re here for the long term … that the noise you’re hearing from sections of the Australian community, particularly the unions is misinformation,” the federation’s chief executive Simon Talbot told AAP from Shanghai on Thursday.
Mr Talbot said the Chinese were equally concerned about the anti-agreement campaign, which was upsetting.
“Frankly (the agreement) is the game-changer for Australian agriculture,” he said.
Agriculture has been in the doldrums for the past few decades and is now starting to rebound.
“To have unions try and take that away from rural communities really does rip the heart out of what we believe in and what’s been developed,” Mr Talbot said.
Mr Talbot, who is in Shanghai with about 40 CEOs from citrus, seafood, meat and dairy companies, described the deal with China as unique.
The CFMEU is worried the agreement will allow Chinese companies to bring in workers, depriving Australians of jobs.
Labor has also expressed concerns, with Senate leader Penny Wong saying any deal must maximise Australian jobs.
“We’re open to discussions with the government about finding a way through, but there are concerns,” she told Sky News.
Trade Minister Andrew Robb said Labor’s opposition to the agreement would amount to “economic sabotage”, stifling new jobs, investment and businesses.
It would also damage relations with China.
“Surely sanity will prevail and Bill Shorten will stay true to the support he offered for the agreement when China’s President Xi visited Australia,” he said in a statement.
Mr Robb described the union campaign as a diversion by “one of the most disgraced organisations” in the country, the CFMEU.
Legislation implementing the agreement is expected to be introduced to parliament in October, with the deal entering into force by the end of the yea