China hopes to make progress on the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Australia at an early date, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said on Wednesday, ahead of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's visit to China in April. "China welcomes Abbott to visit China. We hope the trip will promote political mutual trust, economic and cultural cooperation, as well as coordination on international and regional affairs," Hong said. Talks between Australia and China on the FTA have been under way for almost nine years. If a deal is signed, it would lead to the first FTA that China has with a major developed economy and give Australian agricultural products easier access to the lucrative Chinese market.