Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Tuesday said he would be working for the "trifecta" of free trade with the country's three biggest trading partners when he leads trade missions to Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK) and China next month.
"This will be my first official visit to north Asia and it's happening very early in the new government's term," Abbott said in a speech to the Asia Society in Canberra.
"There is, of course, no law of nature saying that the Asian middle class must buy the products of Australian manufacturers, must use our services, must study at our colleges, or must visit our tourist destinations," he said.
"Just because Asian countries have found Australia a good supplier in the past, doesn't mean they will inevitably do so in the future. That's why this government is doing everything it can to complete free trade agreements with our top three export markets."
He said he hoped to witness the signing of the ROK-Australia free trade agreement (FTA), to finalize the Japan-Australia FTA, and to announce substantial progress towards freer trade with China.
"This is the trifecta of trade we are working towards," said Abbott.
The ROK-Australia FTA would reduce or eliminate tariffs on key agricultural exports and open opportunities for innovative service businesses.
"Free trade agreements mean little without businesses willing to make the most of them. So, accompanying this trip to our three largest trading partners will be a very senior business delegation indeed," he said.
"My visit will also coincide with the inaugural Australia Week in China, to which Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb is leading the largest ever overseas business delegation from Australia."
The delegation would involve small, medium and large companies from across all sectors of the Australian economy, including financial services, food and agribusiness, and manufacturing.
"Australia Week in China represents an unprecedented level of focus and partnership with business in this key market, where Australian exports increased by over 2 billion AU dollars (1.83 billion U.S. dollars) in just the last year," said Abbott.
"It's hard to overstate the importance and the strength of Australia's relationship with China. China is now by far our largest trading partner. In some years, it's our largest source of immigrants and in most years it's our largest source of foreign tourists and students," he said.
"As liberalization spreads from the economy into other elements of Chinese life, I am confident that Australia will be a valued friend and strategic partner, as well as a rock-solid-reliable economic partner, to the Chinese people and government."
Abbott said it was telling that on the eve of his trip, Chinese and Japanese aircraft were together searching for the southern Indian Ocean for signs of Malaysia Airlines flight MH307 under the coordination of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, and ROK aircraft were also on the way.
"In the search for flight MH370, the countries of our region have demonstrated an ability to work together in a good cause," said Abbott.
"Deep down, what peoples have in common is always more important than anything that divides us."