A guide to free trade agreements

By CCIWA Editor 

Australia has 17 Free Trade Agreements in force with 36 countries and is energetically pursuing more. And that's exciting news for businesses in Australia.

These agreements aim to reduce or eliminate barriers to trade and investment between nations, opening up opportunities for your business. So what do you need to know to identify and leverage their potential?

The "free" in the FTA suggests a laissez-faire approach to trade and investment, but FTAs don't mean the abandonment of all duties, taxes and other controls. Rather, they are complex agreements that take into account different types of products and investments.  

Each FTA is unique. But if you are looking to export or import from a country, having an FTA in place is a great starting point. They can help level the playing field for Australian businesses, allowing them to compete globally, and make trade more reliable and transparent.

Apart from reduced taxes or duties, FTAs can: 

  • provide protections for investors; 
  • help protect intellectual property rights; 
  • create coherent product standards between nations;
  • allow Australia to access or sell certain types of services, or compete for foreign government contracts. 

Read the full list of Australia's current FTAs.

Australia has concluded negotiations in these FTAs, which are yet to come into force.

Australia is in the process of negotiating the following FTAs.

How to access FTA benefits for your export 

HS Codes

The first step to understanding whether or not your business is eligible for FTA tariff cuts is knowing the correct "Harmonised Commodity Description and Coding system", or 'HS code' for your product. This step is critical and is worth bringing in an expert. 

Getting your HS code wrong can mean leaving money on the table or having to backpay Customs down the line. We recommend getting advice from a customs broker — ITIC offers reduced prices on this service to Members.  

The Department of Trade and Foreign Affairs hosts a portal that allows you to search the FTA benefits applicable to your product HS Code. 

Rules of origin

You may need to be able to prove your product is wholly or substantially produced in Australia, depending on the FTA in place.

DFAT's FTA portal also gives information to give you a sense of your meets the rules of origin for the applicable FTA; however, this is also an area where it can be worth bringing in expert help from our ITIC experts.

Proof of origin

You may need to provide a Certificate of Origin (CO) to prove your export product meets the FTA rules of origin requirements. You will need to provide this CO to your importing country's customs to prove you are eligible for the preferential tariffs.

The CO will need to be specific to the FTA you are hoping to benefit from. CCIWA is an authorised certifying body for COs, and our ITIC team is happy to have a chat about your product.

Depending on the FTA and your product, you may be able to self-certify your goods by producing a declaration of origin.

When FTAs aren't enough

So, who decides which FTAs Australia pursues, and how can you raise issues or concerns if you're facing barriers to international trade?

CCIWA delivers Member feedback directly to government bodies on barriers to international trade, as well as producing submissions to public consultations. 

Get in touch with our team at ITIC today. You can also produce a submission to the FTA public consultations process via DFAT's website.  

CCIWA’s International Trade and Investment Centre (ITIC) helps businesses reduce the time, cost and risk of going global. Contact the team for a free consultation on (08) 9365 7620 or via [email protected].

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