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India and Australia Move Closer to Sign Trade Agreement

According to a statement by Indian Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal, India and Australia are likely to finalize the document on interim trade agreement. The statement came on 11 February after the Indian minister met visiting Trade and Tourism Minister of Australia Dan Tehan. The ministers issued a joint statement post the meeting.

The interim deal will include goods, services, rules of origin, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, customs procedure, and legal and Institutional issues. Both the ministers reiterated that the two sides have accommodated and respected each other’s sensitivities.

The Indian minister said that negotiators from India and Australia are working on the proposed document which would be ready in 30 days. According to the minister the document will be a “win-win” for both the parties.

The Australian minister, who has been negotiating the trade deal for the past three days, said that Australia understands India’s sensitivities about wheat, dairy products and beef. The assurance from the Australian leader comes as a relief as trade on these items are sensitive to the Indian economy and can have socio-political ramifications. Indian farmers groups have expressed concern and are monitoring the ongoing negotiations. Likewise, Australia too has concerns over opening the services sector.

Without sharing any further details on specific concerns, the Indian minister said “All of these things will be out in a package. Our teams will sign an interim trade agreement in 30 days. It’s a truly watershed moment in bilateral relations.”

The ultimate aim of these negotiations is to sign the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA).

The minister described the proposed interim agreement as an “early harvest deal” with the aim of increasing bilateral trade before CECA is finally negotiated.

During their interaction with the media, the Australian minister emphasized that his country is in favour of rules based international trade regime. Australia is currently in dispute with China over trade in barley and wine. 

India and Australia are expecting that if the final interim trade deal is signed in March this year, CECA can be signed 12 months after that.

The Indian and Australian ministers also signed a MoU on tourism. Australia is lifting pandemic-related restrictions in a phased manner. Lifting of travel restrictions will help Indian students to resume courses in Australian campuses. The minister welcoming Indians said Australia has opened the tourism sector for international tourists from 21 February.

The Indian government is aiming to sign Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with a series of countries this year. India and UAE are in the final stages of FTA and are likely to sign it this month. India is talking to Israel, Canada, the European Union and the UK for either FTA or early harvest deals.

According to the Indian minister, apart from the UAE, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have also expressed interest to sign a similar deal with India. GCC members are Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman. 

To take forward similar discussions, the Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng is likely to visit New Delhi soon.