The Federal Government is ramping up its rhetoric to ensure the China free trade agreement (FTA) goes ahead.

The union movement is strongly opposed to the deal that it says reduces the requirement to look for Australian workers on new projects, and will allow foreign workers to be taken on with lower language and training standards than before.

Unions are also concerned about investor-state dispute provisions, which could see foreign companies take legal action against local, state or federal governments that enact legislation which damages their profits.

Plain-packaging on cigarettes has been one of the major moves that has angered multinationals, and is already the subject of legal action against Australia. 

Proponents say the unions’ line is tinged with racism and xenophobia.

Speaking from Beijing, Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb said the unions’ opposition to the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement is nothing short of economic sabotage.

“I am here in Beijing with 35 Australian CEOs who are hard at work creating business opportunities that will boost prosperity back home for years to come,” Mr Robb said.

“We have two major deals between Australian and Chinese companies that illustrate the future of our business relationship with China,” Mr Robb said, referring to new agreements between Chinese firms and vitamin supplements manufacturer Blackmores, and beef retailer Sanger Australia.

“In both sectors the FTA delivers lower tariffs for their exports to China, and it just beggars belief that certain union officials would be leading a campaign to white-ant these kinds of opportunities,” Robb said.

“Even the esteemed former Labor leader Bob Hawke has come out in support of the China Free Trade Agreement, so I call on Bill Shorten to stop doing the unions’ bidding and start putting Australia’s future first.”

Finacne Minister Mathias Cormann and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop ran the same line in weekend interviews as well.

Australian Council of Trade Unions national secretary Dave Oliver said in an interview on the weekend that politicians should oppose the deal in its current form.

“My message to Labor, the Senate crossbench and The Greens is they should not be passing this trade deal unless we can get this issue adequately addressed,” he told ABC Insiders.

Mr Oliver called the agreement “a dud deal” that would “allow Chinese companies to bring in labour into this country on projects where they have a stake of 20-odd million dollars at a time when we have unemployment with a six in front of it... in some regions around this country it’s double digit unemployment.”

“People want to try and paint us in this debate as being anti-trade. We’re not anti-trade, but we think that any deal... should have some fairness in it, so if we can address these issues – particularly around the labour market mobility issue – sure, the agreement should go through.

“[But] we’re not convinced that there’s going to be significant net gain... Why would you do a trade deal that allows companies to import labour from overseas at a time when we’ve got 6 per cent unemployment.”