SYDNEY, Feb 17, 2010 (AFP) - Australia will resume stalled talks with China within days as it pursues an ambitious free-trade push following its strong recovery from the global downturn, Trade Minister Simon Crean said.
He said discussions with China would open in Canberra next week, while Australia was also in talks with Japan and South Korea and was studying a deal with India.
He said Canberra and Beijing were strongly committed to free-trade negotiations which stumbled on technical issues before diplomatic ties suffered a series of setbacks last year.
"The key market access areas of these negotiations have been difficult, and negotiations have taken longer than we would have hoped," Crean told Australia's Foreign Correspondents' Association on Tuesday.
"But high-level political commitment on both sides remains."
Rapidly industrialising China has become Canberra's biggest trading partner with deals worth 76 billion Australian dollars (68 billion US) over the past financial year as it sucks in vast quantities of Australia's resources.
Vice premier Li Keqiang recommitted China to a free-trade deal in October during a fence-mending visit after the arrest of an Australian mining executive and a row over a visit by exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer.
Australia relied heavily on Asia as it became the only advanced economy to avoid recession during the downturn, with Japan, China, South Korea and India its top four export markets.
Australia's free-trade deal with the 10-nation ASEAN came into force last month, and it will start negotiating a trans-Pacific pact with the United States, New Zealand, Singapore, Chile, Brunei, Peru and Vietnam in March.
However, Crean also stressed Australia's commitment to a world trade pact under the Doha round of negotiations, which has missed repeated deadlines.
Treasury secretary Ken Henry last week declared the global downturn over as official data showed unemployment fell to 5.3 percent in January, its third successive drop.