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As with many industrialized countries, Australia maintains a series of trade agreements with major commercial partners that ensure access to foreign markets for its exports while ensuring its population enjoys the benefits of high-quality, low-cost imports from other countries. Australia is a member of the World Trade Organization, which sets global standards for tariffs on agricultural, industrial and consumer goods and services. There are currently 159 countries represented in the WTO, and that organization provides the baseline regulations for how member countries trade with each other, for example, by penalizing countries that put up barriers to foreign imports in order to protect domestic industries from competition.
In addition to belonging to the WTO, Australia also has in place bilateral trade agreements with the United States, China, New Zealand, Singapore, Chile, Thailand, and Malaysia, plus a free trade agreement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). These agreements, as is common with bilateral and regional free trade agreements, go beyond the baseline levels established by the WTO for lowering tariffs on a broad assortment of goods and services. Also similar to other countries, including the United States, Australia is constantly in the process of negotiating with additional governments on new trade agreements, including with Japan, Korea, India, and the nations of the Persian Gulf (the Gulf Cooperation Council: Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait).
The common issues addressed in trade agreements, in addition to lowering tariffs, include protection of each country's intellectual property rights (i.e., prohibiting the production of counterfeit goods to compete with the legitimately-produced items), protecting the rights of foreign companies operating within each other's borders, and ensuring equal access to government contracts.
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