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Australia eyes expanding Asian middle class
by Staff Writers
Hong Kong (AFP) July 10, 2012


France foreign minister hopes for better China relations
Beijing (AFP) July 10, 2012 - French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius wrapped up a visit to Beijing on Tuesday, saying he hoped for a "higher quality partnership" between France and China.

France's top diplomat met Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and his likely successor Vice President Li Keqiang, a contrast to a February trip when Chinese leaders shunned him. At the time, he was a representative for then presidential candidate Francois Hollande.

The trip was the first to China by a French minister since Hollande was elected in May.

"We are going to have a higher quality partnership and better relations than in the past," Fabius said at a news conference, referring to the "ups and downs" of France's relations under former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Fabius met his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi on Monday, with the two discussing the bloodshed in Syria among a range of international issues.

Fabius said France and China remained at odds over Syria. Russia and China vetoed two UN Security Council resolutions criticising President Bashar al-Assad's regime earlier this year.

"China needs to have the mindset that, if Assad falls, like we hope he will, there won't be chaos," he said.

On economic relations, Fabius noted that France had a "major commercial imbalance" with China of 27 billion euros ($34 billion).

"We need to fix that with cooperations in new sectors," Fabius said.

Asia's rapidly expanding middle class will become a key market for Australia's goods and services this decade, the country's Treasurer Wayne Swan will tell business leaders in Hong Kong Wednesday.

Australia's coal, gas and minerals have helped fuel Asia's economic boom but Swan is expected to say goods and services have equal potential as the benefits of growth flow into the pockets of Asian consumers.

"The Asian region is rapidly becoming the epicentre of global activity as the weight of economic power shifts from West to East," Swan will tell the Australian Chamber of Commerce, according to a draft speech sent to AFP.

Asia's middle class is growing by around 110 million new consumers a year, and by the end of the decade the region will be the largest "consumption zone" in the world, he said.

"So there is enormous potential for our neighbours to look to Australia as an increasing supplier of the complex consumer durables and more sophisticated services that Asia's middle class will demand," Swan said.

The Labor treasurer and deputy prime minister is also scheduled to deliver a speech on the internationalisation of China's currency during his visit to the regional banking and finance hub.

The semi-autonomous southern city is positioning itself at the centre of Beijing's drive to boost trade and finance in the yuan, or renminbi.

With a high-level business delegation in tow, Swan will head to Beijing on Thursday for a three-day visit to celebrate the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and China.

Australia is the only developed economy to have avoided a recession since the 2008 global financial crisis, thanks in large part to China's voracious appetite for its energy and mineral resources, especially coal and iron ore.

Despite China's recent economic slowdown, Australia's economy expanded by 1.3 percent in the first quarter of 2012 and 4.3 percent in the year to March, according to the central bank.

But the mining boom has pushed the Australian dollar to record highs against the greenback, hurting manufacturing exports and service industries such as tourism and education.

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