Former trade minister Andrew Robb says Australia's relationship with China has "gone to custard".
Mr Robb was one of the few people who attended a free trade seminar in the final days of Beef Australia in Rockhampton this week.
Mr Robb rose at the end of a speech by Agriculture, Water and Environment Department assistant secretary Dr Jarred Greenville to give his take on the importance of free trade agreements.
"I actually negotiated some of these," he said, referring to trade deals with China, Korea and Japan.
Mr Robb attracted controversy after his stint as trade minister over his business relationships with China when he was hired as a consultant.
In Rockhampton, Mr Robb said he had learned during his time negotiating the complex trade deals they were often "very complicated" and could involve as many as 11,000 separate trade items.
He said diplomats and government bureaucrats worked for years to iron out the details.
He said it didn't help when politics became involved as it had currently.
"Our political relationship with China has gone to custard," he said.
Dr Greenville said the importance of free trade agreements to Australian agricultural exports over the past 15 years had been critical.
He said there were only a few major trading partners which remain with which Australia does not yet have a preferential trade agreement.
MORE READING: China cuts economic contact with Australia.
The pursuit of agreements with new partners will remain of key importance to Australia's future trade agenda, he said.
He said one of the aims of these agreements was to provide diversified markets for agricultural exports so the industries did not have to rely on single markets.
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