DepSec who stared down opposition to China FTA given diplomatic post

By David Donaldson

October 26, 2015

Jan Adams
Jan Adams

Free trade negotiator Jan Adams has been named as Australia’s next ambassador to China, replacing Frances Adamson in the key diplomatic posting that remains politician-free after nearly 70 years.

Unlike the heads of embassies in the United Kingdom or the United States, which are often taken by retiring politicians, the ambassador to China role has been filled by a career diplomat for the duration of its existence.

Adams, until recently a deputy secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with responsibility for trade and economic issues, led the team responsible for delivering the free trade agreements with China, South Korea and Japan.

She is expected to take up her post in February. Current ambassador Frances Adamson will return to Australia to serve as the key foreign affairs adviser to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Adamson’s final speech in the role emphasised the role the regional neighbours play in the keeping the China-Australia relationship critical: “Our interests will not always coincide. But in large part the success of our relationship will be decided by the frequency and depth of our engagement – and the determination and commitment of all of us to sustain it over the long term.”

Adams has recently played a role in defending the Asian free trade agreements in an appearance at the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, where she made a statement about “myths” surrounding the China FTA and took on opposition committee members’ hostile questions.

Adams was previously Australia’s ambassador for the environment, helping secure special provisions for Australia at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. One ‘UNFCCC insider’ wrote in Crikey back in 2007 that “if you give her a brief, she will get you exactly what you want.”

Justin Brown is currently acting in the position of deputy secretary for trade negotiations at DFAT.

Former ambassador to China Geoff Raby told The Mandarin last year that the Abbott government managed to succeed in negotiating the China FTA because it opted to take a ‘narrower, defensive’ approach following years of stalled negotiations.

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