It’s been a decade-long process of intense negotiations, but the ‘deal of a lifetime’ for Australia’s economy – a free trade agreement (FTA) with its biggest trade partner China – could just increase competition for local architecture practices.
Under the agreement, trade tariffs would be reduced, regulatory barriers removed, and foreign investment encouraged. The agriculture and tourism sectors are tipped to be biggest winners, with local businesses to have greater access to a broad range of services, including construction and architecture.
In turn the cap for foreign investment into Australia is expected to grow from under $248 million to just over a billion dollars, which will benefit China’s state-owned enterprises and particularly its manufacturing industries.
“Any service to do with aged care or health or education or architecture…all of these things, there’s a really keen focus because that that’s where the jobs are,” Trade Minister Andrew Robb told reporters while in Beijing last week for APEC and advanced FTA meetings.
“Australia is so well-placed to help China develop so many of these service capabilities. It’s quite an exciting time to be negotiating this deal because of the significance and the complementarity of what’s happening here in China with what we’re good at.”
However, it is not necessarily a win-win for both sides, says BVN Architecture’s principal, James Grose.
“It seems to me, on the surface of things, it’s [the agreement] very much favouring Chinese architects working in Australia rather than Australian architects working in China,” he said in an interview with the ABC.
This is especially since working in China is more restrictive than many other Asian countries – a process that Grose believes the FTA will do little to change.
"You must give the bulk of the work to the Chinese Design Institute and you, in a sense, become a consultant to that institute, as opposed to in the other countries, like in Australia, where your expertise is called for across the entire length of the project," he observed.
While Australian architects are not expected to become more competitive in China, the FTA could, contrastingly, open doors for more Chinese practices to bid for Australian projects.
“We compete regularly with European, English, American practices. It will just be another group of architects in the mix, really,” said Grose.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott is expected to sign the trade deal with China following the G20 summit next week.