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We are friends with China and Japan: Australia

Australia can maintain strong relationships with both China and Japan, despite their ongoing political spat, the country's Trade Minister told CNBC.

Earlier this month Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's visit to Australia prompted speculation that Australia risked damaging its relationship with China, its largest trading partner.

Tensions over the disputed ownership of islands in the East China Sea have kept China and Japan at loggerheads in recent years, souring trade relations between them.

Read MoreIs a less pacifist-Japan on collision with China?

But Australia's Trade Minister Andrew Robb told CNBC at the B20 Australia 2014 conference on Thursday, this should not be the case.

"If you increase your friendship with one friend, it doesn't mean you reduce your friendship with others. We can and we must maintain and grow very strong relationships and greater trust with all of these countries in the region," said Robb.

"We have 51 percent of our exports going to Japan, South Korea or China. It is fundamental for us and for the region that we have strong relationships with each of these countries," he added.

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Australia has secured bilateral trade deals with both Japan (this month) and South Korea (in April), but an equivalent free trade agreement with China has been proven difficult to nail down and has been under negotiation for nearly a decade.

Robb told CNBC the Chinese were "tough negotiators" but he expects the agreement to be finalized by year-end.

"We're at I'd say a fairly advanced stage… they've stalled badly over recent years and I think we've breathed good life back into it," he said.

Read MoreChina plots its own Asia 'pivot'

"There is still a lot of work to be done, they are tough negotiators I've got to say, but we have set a framework and if the political will is there we can reach a favorable agreement by the end of this year," he added.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Visits Australia
Getty Images
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe Visits Australia

Robb said the agreement with China would focus on agriculture and services, amongst other sectors.

Unilateral action

Four hundred business leaders gathered at the B20 conference in Sydney this week to develop recommendations designed to help the G-20 achieve its objective of increasing global growth by at least two percentage points over the next five years.

Read MoreAustralia central bank keeps rates steady, as expected

The Australian Trade Minister said each country present at the B20 needs to unilaterally remove some of the barriers hindering trade between them to help achieve this goal.

"The wood is being put on every country to nominate what they can do in their own country, not necessarily what we can do collectively. We don't have to wait for agreements to reach those sorts of things," he added.

Also speaking at the B20 conference on Thursday, the CEO BHP Billiton, the world's largest mining firm, told CNBC that B20 members needed to commit to a more "21st century approach" to liberalizing world trade.

"I'm hoping they'll realize that by doing some of the recommendations that we're going to make to them, they have the potential to add another Germany to the world economy, which is greater than $3 trillion dollars of turnover and 15 million new jobs," said Andrew Mackenzie.

Read MoreAustralia jobless rate at decade high of 6 percent

Mackenzie hopes Australia will hammer out a free trade agreement with China because it would help integrate the country more closely into BHP's major markets.

In doing that they're creating the potential for greater multi-lateral agreement, not just in the pacific, but worldwide, so I very much support the efforts of this government," he added.

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