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China FTA just a few days away: Robb

Australia is just a few days away from securing a free trade agreement with China that has been almost a decade in the making.

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Trade Minister Andrew Robb has been leading the final stage of negotiations in Beijing before the APEC leaders summit, which starts on Monday.

“We are now at the very sharp end of our negotiations,” Mr Robb told reporters in the Chinese capital on Sunday. “It’ll be a few more days I think.”

Mr Robb concedes there are still two main sticking points. He won’t say what they are – arguing a public commentary could compromise the final stage of talks – only that they are complicated and potentially politically sensitive.

“We are nearly there but like all agreements that hardest part is probably at the end because the more difficult political issues are there,” he said.

It now appears likely Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Chinese President Xi Jinping will sign the deal when they are in Canberra in a week’s time.

Mr Xi will address the federal parliament on November 17, after the G20 summit in Brisbane.

Mr Robb says the deal will not only further liberalise trade in areas like resources, energy and agriculture – but also open up “a whole new flank” in services.

“This is huge. This is the biggest deal that we will have done by a long shot,” he said.

But he concedes not every sector of Australian industry will get exactly what it wants.

Opposition leader Bill Shorten is concerned the deal may spring some “nasties” on Australians and has urged Mr Abbott and Mr Robb to reveal the details.

“Tell Australians the truth; what’s in the deal?” he said.

Mr Shorten also accused the government of selectively leaking out good news, referring to a reported billion-dollar deal to sell live cattle to China.

Labor is concerned, too, that the FTA may open up the possibility of cheap Chinese labour in Australia – but Mr Robb insists that would not be the case.

The minister also denies that Australia’s decision not to sign up to China’s proposal for a new Asian Infrastructure Development Bank has had any effect on the trade talks.

Twenty countries joined China last month to sign an agreement to set up the body aimed at bridging a multi-billion dollar funding gap for dams, ports, roads and other important capital works across Asia.

But Australia was among a handful of countries that declined, citing governance concerns.

The issue has split federal cabinet – with some ministers concerned China will have too much control and will use the bank to further its geopolitical agenda – but Mr Robb says the government does want to be involved.

“We want to join and we think it would be a great thing for the region,” he said, adding that half of Australia’s concerns had already been addressed.

He says he has spoken about the issue with senior Chinese officials but they’re message has been clear: “Take your time”.

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White leads Australia to T20 series win

A well-paced innings from Cameron White has steered Australia to a dramatic series-clinching two-wicket Twenty20 win over South Africa at ANZ Stadium.

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Chasing South Africa’s score of 6-145, Australia reached their target with just two balls to spare on Sunday.

The result clinched a 2-1 series win for Australia, who lost the first match in Adelaide last Wednesday and then squared the series in Melbourne on Friday.

Both sides stumbled after good starts.

South Africa were well placed at 0-75 after 8.3 overs with openers Reeza Hendricks (49 off 48) and Quinton de Cock (48 off 27 balls) going well.

Australian openers Aaron Finch (33 off 25) and Ben Dunk (14 off 8) put on 40 off 4.4 overs, but were also guilty of getting out just as they looked to be asserting themselves.

The home team lost 4-22 to slump to 4-62 in the ninth over, after Nic Maddinson (4)and Shane Watson (5) fell in successive overs.

White (41 not out off 31 balls) and fellow Victorian Glenn Maxwell (23 off 15) looked to be building a potential match-winning partnership, until the latter was caught at deep midwicket, leaving the home team needing 46 off the last 43 balls.

James Faulkner (9), Pat Cummins (3), and Sean Abbott (5) perished in the 16th and 18th and 20th overs respectively , and White was almost run out in the final over.

Finch had earlier thrashed sixes over long on and long off in Wayne Parnell’s first over, the fourth of the innings, which yielded 15 runs.

The Australian captain was caught at backward square leg off David Wiese (3-21) in the next over.

Dunk, who faced just three balls in the first five overs, hit JP Duminy over long off for six.

The South African captain got his revenge the next ball, taking a sharp return catch.

In South Africa’s innings James Faulkner (3-28) was particularly effective in the closing overs, smashing through the middle order.

Paceman Pat Cummins (1-23) and spinner Glenn Maxwell (0-24) were also instrumental in dragging Australia back into the contest.

David Miller (34 not out off 26) was the only visiting batsman to make an impact in the closing overs.

Then two nations now meet in a five-match one-day series starting in Perth on Friday.

“To play a pretty messy game and get across the line, I think showed real character in the group,” Finch said.

White, who was switched from the top of the order after the first game of the series, continued the good form which recently won him a second straight domestic one-day player of the series award.

“It was good to finish not out and get the win and I feel as though I’ve been in good form for a period of time now,” White said.

“It was nice to take advantage of that, but i thought the bowling has been a real strength for us throughout the series.”

Duminy felt after their good start South Africa could have got to around the 160 mark.

“I think to defend as well as we have done in that game, I was pretty happy with that bowling performance,” Duminy said.

“Here and there, we let it leak a little bit, but all in all I was pretty happy with the way we fought. We never gave up.”

Obama leaves for China and Australia

US President Barack Obama has left Washington on a trip that will culminate in his visit to Australia.

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But before he gets here for the G20 summit in Brisbane next week, Obama will meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, where the White House said it expects “candid and in-depth conversations.”

The relationship between the two superpowers, which US Secretary of State John Kerry has called the “most consequential” in the world today, has been marred by tensions over the South China Sea, cyberspying and human rights issues.

Obama will also attend the APEC summit in Beijing.

The president boarded the flight for Beijing in grey slacks and a casual black windbreaker, accompanied by National Security Advisor Susan Rice and senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer, among others.

He will also visit Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

While there, Obama will meet President Thein Sein and opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi and attend a summit of ASEAN nations in Naypyidaw.

Washington has raced to normalise ties with Myanmar following reforms there, removing most US sanctions imposed on the military junta.

But Suu Kyi warned this week that the pace of change was slowing, and that the US had been “over-optimistic about the reform process” at times.

The White House said it remained committed to democratic reform in Myanmar.

“We will underscore the United States’ commitment to the protection of human rights, tolerance and pluralism, as well as sustaining and deepening the democratic transition,” Rice said.

When the president goes on to a G20 summit in Brisbane, the unrest in Ukraine may also be a focus.

Obama could meet with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to discuss Ukraine.

No formal meetings have been scheduled, but neither side has ruled out the possibility of informal discussions. The last time the two leaders met face to face was in June in France.

Shehzad hits century as Pakistan dominate New Zealand

Shehzad hit 14 fours in his unbeaten 126 and Azhar was 46 not out as Pakistan, who completed a 2-0 series victory over Australia at the same venue last week, look to continue their rich vein of form in the three-match series against New Zealand.

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Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq opted to bat first and after pacemen Trent Boult and Tim Southee had sent down the first eight overs, New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum introduced spin from both ends.

The ploy nearly paid dividends when Shehzad, on 16, came charging down the track against off-spinner Mark Craig and misjudged the flight but BJ Watling fumbled behind the stumps and could not collect the ball, allowing the batsman to scurry home.

India-born leg-spinner Ish Sodhi was unlucky when Hafeez’s outside edge found Ross Taylor in the slips but a TV replay suggested the ball might have bounced before being caught.

Hafeez pulled Southee to bring up his fifty after lunch and Shehzad took two off Sodhi to complete his half-century.

All-rounder Corey Anderson denied Hafeez a century, deceiving him with a clever change of pace and the batsman gave return catch to the bowler. Hafeez’s composed 137-ball knock contained 10 fours.

Shehzad, however, could not be denied his hundred which he brought up with a single off James Neesham.

Azhar also had his share of luck, being dropped by Watling behind the stumps after fluffing a reverse sweep against the luckless Craig.

McCullum even game himself a bowl at the Pakistani batsman, more in desperation than in any real hope of breaking the blooming Shehzad-Azhar partnership.

(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; Editing by Ed Osmond)

Watson magic secures Shanghai title in playoff

Masters champion Watson added another big title to his resume when he sank a “once-in-a-lifetime” 30-yard bunker shot for eagle at the par-five 18th to earn a spot in a playoff and then drained a 20-foot birdie putt on the same hole minutes later to edge South African Tim Clark.

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The importance of the win in front of a packed and boisterous gallery at Sheshan was clear by Watson’s ecstatic reaction after he pocketed $1.4 million and improved his playoff record to 4-1.

“I’ve always dreamed about winning at least once outside the U.S., to say that I can travel a little bit,” admitted a player who once seemed uncomfortable venturing to foreign shores but will climb to number three in the world rankings on Monday.

“My goal has always been to get 10 (career) wins. Now I’ve got seven.”

The 36-year-old emerged victorious after a wild finish in which five players were tied for the lead late in the final round — although Watson was not one of them after bogeying the 16th and double-bogeying the 17th.

However, he catapulted himself to the top of the leaderboard with his stunning bunker shot, before Clark calmly rolled in a five-footer for birdie as the pair tied at 11-under-par 277, one shot ahead of Northern Irishman Graeme McDowell, Japan’s Hiroshi Iwata and American Rickie Fowler.

DISPLAYING EMOTIONS

McDowell, who led for the first three days, and Iwata both had good birdie chances to join the playoff but their putts slid left of the hole.

Fowler and German Martin Kaymer also needed to birdie the last to join the playoff, but both found the water hazard — Fowler in front of the green and Kaymer behind it.

Fowler salvaged a par but Kaymer had a double-bogey to finish three shots behind.

Watson has always openly displayed his emotions — both positive and negative — and he was not about to hold back after his bunker shot at the 72nd hole.

“I was just standing there in awe but I didn’t know how to react so I just kind of screamed and lost my voice,” he said.

Watson was surprised to attract a large gallery on the other side of the Pacific: “Obviously a lot of people like to hit the ball far so I guess that helps that people wanted to watch me play and cheer for me and every once in a while go straight.

“They never know what they are going to get, so maybe they get excited about it.”

(Editing by John O’Brien)

Kovalev mauls Hopkins to unite belts

Sergey Kovalev punished 49-year-old ring legend Bernard Hopkins over 12 rounds on Saturday, unifying three light heavyweight world titles with a lopsided unanimous decision.

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Hopkins was brought to earth with a thud when Kovalev knocked him down in the first round.

The hard-hitting Russian powered on from there, never troubled as he added Hopkins’ World Boxing Association and International Boxing Federation titles to his own World Boxing Organization belt.

Two judges scored the bout 120-107 for Kovalev, while a third saw it 120-106 for the 31-year-old Russian, who had never been past the eighth round in 26 prior fights.

Kovalev improved to 26-0 with one drawn and 23 knockouts.

Hopkins, who will turn 50 in January, fell to 55-7-2, enduring the most lopsided decision of his career.

Already the oldest fighter to capture a major world title, Hopkins insisted the defeat wouldn’t automatically spell the end of his ring career.

“I would not disclose anything now,” he said. “It’s 50-50, what I’m going to do, but I’ve done more than anybody expected me to do in my whole career. I’m fine. I will think about it.”

Kovalev said he thought Hopkins “needs to stop his career,” if only to “give younger guys a chance to be champions.”

Kovalev showed he didn’t need Hopkins to step aside, imposing his will from the opening bell.

“Bernard is a tough opponent and very good at keeping the distance,” Kovalev said.

“He’s a great in the boxing world. But I wanted to show my fans I could box and I did. He touched me with some good punches, he has some good form.”

Despite encouraging chants of “B-Hop! B-Hop!” from the crowd of 8,545 at Boardwalk Hall, Hopkins had no answer for Kovalev’s power and the Russian’s disciplined plan of attack.

“The better man was Kovalev,” Hopkins said. “He fought a great technical fight. He used his reach and he used his distance and that was the key.”

After sending Hopkins to the canvas with a right to the face in the first, Kovalev staggered Hopkins with another right in the eighth, although the veteran – whose only concession to age is the gray stubble on his chin – stayed on his feet.

Finally in the 12th, Hopkins seemed to realise he’d need to produce a knockout, but Kovalev seemed just as intent – landing 38 of his 89 punches in the final round.

“I’m crazy,” Hopkins laughed when asked about going toe-to-toe with Kovalev in the 12th, but then added: “I’m kidding. It’s what the fans want to see. They want to see good fights. I was engaging, I knew if I could get a good shot in I could turn things around.”

British jihadist killed in Iraq

A married father-of-two is believed to have become the second British jihadist to have killed himself while fighting in Syria and Iraq.

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The man, named in reports as Kabir Ahmed, is believed to have been involved in a suicide bomb attack in the town of Beiji, north of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, two days ago.

Going under the name Abu Sumayyah, the 32-year-old is said not to have told his family that he was fleeing Britain to fight for terrorist organisation Islamic State.

It would make Ahmed the second British jihadist suicide bomber, after Abdul Waheed Majeed – a 41-year-old father-of-three – blew himself up in February when he drove a truck laden with explosives into a jail in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

Ahmed died when he drove a truck packed with explosives into a convoy of a top Iraqi police officer, killing eight people, including the ranking official, authorities said.

Ahmed’s identity was confirmed by Shiraz Maher, from the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College in London, which monitors social media accounts of alleged jihadists.

Writing on Twitter, Maher wrote: “British foreign fighter, Abu Sumayyah, (real name: Kabir Ahmed) from Derby carried out a suicide bombing in Baiji, Iraq, yesterday.

“British suicide bomber in Iraq, Abu Sumayyah (Kabir Ahmed) originally joined Jund al-Sham in Syria and then moved to Islamic State.

“Abu Sumayyah (Kabir Ahmed), British suicide bomber in Iraq, was 32, married, and had children.”

The Foreign Office is now looking into the incident. A spokesman said: “We are aware of reports of the death of a British national in Iraq and are looking into them.”

Ahmed was one of three men to be jailed in 2012 for handing out a leaflet calling for gay people to be executed.

Ahmed, with two others, distributed material entitled The Death Penalty? that showed an image of a mannequin hanging from a noose and quoted Islamic texts that said capital punishment was the only way to rid society of homosexuality.

Wawrinka and Cilic face toughest challenge yet

The pair have both discovered their dramatic breakthroughs — Wawrinka’s Australian Open victory in January and Cilic’s U.

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S. Open triumph in September — have proved no instant gateway to a new level of constant, elevated success.

Swiss Wawrinka has endured a season of maddening inconsistency. Croatian Cilic, who has swung between a first- round defeat in the Shanghai Masters and a lower-key triumph in Moscow, reckons he has been a target for every wild gunslinger in town ever since mowing down all-comers at Flushing Meadows.

Yet if their brilliance on the biggest stage has been harder to replicate than they could have imagined, they ought to find encouragement from the words of another first-time grand slam winner who endured plenty of under-achievement before re-emerging to prove himself one of the great champions.

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who opens the defence of his Tour finals crown against Cilic at the O2 Arena on Monday, knows the “biggest adjustment after becoming a grand slam winner is a mental one” and fancies it could be the biggest challenge for both Cilic and Wawrinka “right now and in months and years to come.”

OPEN FLOODGATES

In 2008, Djokovic won the Australian Open, assuming that more grand slams would swiftly follow. Instead, it took him three years to land the next one, which then really did open the floodgates to his current haul of seven.

“In my case, I did have a lot of doubts in those years after my first grand slam, mostly because I lost the majority of the big matches in the Majors against two of my biggest rivals, Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal,” said Djokovic.

“I hit the bottom, I think, around 2010 but with the help of the closest people around me, my family and my team, I managed to find all the necessary mental strength and motivation to work even harder and be patient.

“I could only prepare myself the best I could, take care of my life on and off the court and believe that one day I could win it again. That’s what happened, but the process itself is long and it takes a lot of mental effort.”

So, this is the battle of the mind facing both Wawrinka and Cilic. The difference, of course, is that Djokovic won his first title at 20, while Wawrinka is now 29 and Cilic 26. Time is not on their side in the same way.

Cilic already senses fresh pressure, as if he has a target on his back.

“It’s a different feeling now. I played some matches after the US Open where the guys are playing much more risky, going all or nothing. That’s not easy to confront match after match,” he said.

Wawrinka, who faces Tomas Berdych on Monday after a wretched sequence of only one match win in his last four tournaments, admits his inconsistency is harder to deal with after hitting the heights in Melbourne and Monte Carlo, where he won his first Masters title in April. “Winning a grand slam and a Masters changes your life, changes the way you have to find a way to feel good and play well in every tournament,” he said,

“I hope next year I can have better results in every event.”

Not that Wawrinka would change anything about his landmark year, which he hopes could be capped not just by success in London but by winning the Davis Cup with Roger Federer for Switzerland in the final against France this month.

What would he prefer? A London triumph or an historic victory for his country? “That’s not a good question,” he smiled. “Don’t choose.”

(Editing by Ed Osmond)

SA’s Cooper scores Shield ton against NSW

South Australian Tom Cooper struck a classy century against NSW to enhance his status as the Sheffield Shield’s dominant batsman.

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Cooper’s superb 121 steered the Redbacks to a 60-run lead against the Blues at stumps on Sunday’s second day of play at Adelaide Oval.

After Redbacks captain Johan Botha took a career-best 6-34 from 32.4 overs to help bowl NSW out for 230, SA were 9-290 with Test quick Mitchell Starc claiming four wickets.

While SA opener Phil Hughes (20) failed to press his Test claims, Cooper’s ton continued his prolific Shield run-making, following scores of 75 and an unbeaten 68 in the season-opener.

The elegant strokeplayer tops the run tally this season. And he was also the Shield’s second-highest scorer last season with 881 runs – five shy of now-retired West Australian Marcus North’s total – at an average of 51.82.

“He has been in really good form, Coops,” SA coach Darren Berry said.

“He and Travis Head put on a partnership that put us in a really strong position … they’re great entertainers.”

Cooper and Head (64) put on 129 runs for the fourth wicket to rescue SA from a wobbly 3-44.

The duo scored 125 of their partnership in just 105 minutes in the middle session to seize momentum for the South Australians.

Their stand came after Hughes fell to Test quick Mitchell Starc, who was menacing all day and finished with 4-64 from 22 overs.

Hughes, seeking to push his claims for selection in Australia’s side for the first Test against India starting December 4, produced a scattered knock.

He struck three crisp boundaries but also a number of inside edges in a 27-ball stay which ended when, playing defensively, he edged to first slip.

Hughes’ opening partner Andrew McDonald (two), Callum Ferguson (15) and middle order bats Tim Ludeman (one) and Botha (six) all failed.

But Cooper remained in command and after support from Head, he also featured in a handy 72-run partnership for the seventh wicket with Joe Mennie (33).

Halpenny fires NZ to Fast5 win

A miracle super shot from Ellen Halpenny set New Zealand alight as they downed Australia 35-31 to retain their Fast5 netball world series title in Auckland on Sunday.

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Halpenny sunk an unbelievable three-pointer right on the half-time whistle, barely a foot inside the goal third, to give the Kiwis a 15-10 lead at the break.

The Australians led 7-4 after the first quarter, but with Bailey Mes sinking three from four in the two-point zone, and Halpenny’s miracle bomb, New Zealand won the second quarter 11-3 and never looked back.

Australia managed to stay within reach of the Kiwis in their power play third quarter, limiting them to 12-5 in the six-minute spell as New Zealand took a 27-15 lead into the last quarter.

The Flyers struggled to make the most of their chances in the power play final quarter, Temalisi Fakahokotau, Kayla Cullen and Katrina Grant particularly impressive in the Kiwis’ defensive circle.

Erin Bell gave the Flyers a chance with some superb long-range shooting in the final quarter, sinking two from two three-pointers and one of her three two-point attempts, but New Zealand’s lead proved too much to overcome.

New Zealand were unbeaten in pool play, opening the two-day tournament with wins over Malawi and England before downing Australia 30-21 in their final match on Saturday.

They beat South Africa 34-25 and overwhelmed Jamaica 35-10 win in their final pool matches on Sunday to qualify top.

Australia downed Jamaica and South Africa before losing to New Zealand on Saturday, then had to work hard for a 35-33 win over Malawi after earlier beating England 31-24.

England pipped Jamaica 31-30 to finish third, while South Africa beat Malawi 30-22 in the play-off for fifth and sixth.