CANBERRA – Australia announces today the start of formal negotiations for a free-trade agreement with China.

China has agreed to a broad-ranging Trade and Economic Framework that the government here hopes will generate substantial spin-offs for Australian companies.

Included in the initial agreement is a commitment to conduct a feasibility study of a free-trade deal between China and Australia, which is expected to take up to two years to complete. Two-way trade with China currently totals A$21 billion ($15 billion) annually.

Senior Australian government officials spent the last month in Beijing finalizing the document ahead of a 3-day visit to Australia this week by Chinese President Hu Jintao.

Trade Minister Mark Vaile and China's Vice Minister Yu Guangzhou will sign the initial agreement, which covers a range of strategic issues including agriculture, customs, quarantine and trade facilitation.