India, Australia likely to sign interim trade pact in March; sensitivities accommodated

Australian trade minister Dan Tehan is visiting the country for talks on an interim or early harvest agreement that would pave way for a wider trade pact between the countries.

India and Australia have “respected and accommodated” sensitivities for certain areas and are likely to sign an interim trade agreement in March to promote bilateral trade, Union minister Piyush Goyal said on Friday.

Australian trade minister Dan Tehan is visiting the country for talks on an interim or early harvest agreement that would pave way for a wider trade pact between the countries.

Addressing a joint presser with Tehan here, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal said that both the countries have respected and accommodated sensitivities for certain areas.

“I am sure, the bilateral trade, which is currently at about USD 20 billion, is going to see a quantum leap after this agreement. Several new areas will open up for both countries,” Goyal told reporters.

“Our teams should be in a position to come up with the interim agreement, the early harvest part of the final CECA (Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement) in the next 30 days. That’s the target we have set for our teams,” Goyal said.

A lot of work is going on to further fine-tune the final document which will open huge opportunities for the people and businesses in both the countries. The CECA may be finalised in 12-18 months after the interim agreement is operationalized.

“The two nations are expected to sign the interim agreement in March 2022,” an official statement said.

The areas covered under the interim agreement should include goods, services, rules of origin, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, customs procedure, and legal and institutional issues.

Talking about his discussions with the Australian minister, Goyal in a lighter vein said: “I have of course played straight, like Sachin Tendulkar my drives are always straight drives. Dan is smarter so he keeps swinging the ball like Glen McGrath.

“Probably but at the end of the day, the master batsman and the master spinner, I hope will both work together so that we have a draw, a win-win for both the countries”.

He added that every free trade agreement always concludes with the “Dil Chahta hai” moments and this famous Bollywood movie was shot largely in Australia.

Meanwhile, an MoU was signed between the two countries to promote cooperation in the tourism sector.

Tehan, who is also Australia’s tourism minister, invited Indian tourists while saying in Hindi: “Australia aaiye, apka swagat hai (Come to Australia, we welcome you)”.

The Australian minister said that as part of discussions on the CECA, both sides are looking at mutual recognition of qualifications so that students could do a year of study in Australia and a year of study in India or vice-versa.

“And what this will lead to, is with greater students travelling between our two countries, it means that friends and family and relatives will follow in those footsteps, which will also help build the tourism relationship and the education relationship,” he said.

He added that “Piyush has also been a bit like Virat Kohli. And I hope that I have been a bit like Pat Cummins as well in swinging the ball so that we not only have an agreement where we are looking at traditional goods and services, but also where our economies will grow in the future. Because what this agreement will do is set our economies up for the future”.

On the interim agreement, Tehan said that more work needs to be done.

“We have got busy 30 days. We have got to finalize texts, finalize the negotiations, legally scrub and sign. So busy, busy 30 days…I am very, very confident that we will be able to achieve that,” he added.

When asked about his views on geopolitical uncertainty keeping in mind a statement of Beijing, Tehan said those countries that have benefited from the international rules based order must continue to ensure that it is upheld.

“And that is why it’s so important that India, Australia, the United States and Japan’s foreign ministers are meeting at this time to make sure that they reiterate how important that international rules based order is and how important it is that all countries adhere to it.

“Because what we are seeing is some countries, I think, looking to change the way that international rules based order works, and that presents challenges and uncertainty for the world at this moment.” “…Since the Second World War, we have benefited all the countries very strongly, from the international rules based order and what we all want to see is that continues and I think that’s why the quad partnership is so important,” he added.

Responding to a question on Quad, Goyal said that Quad has brought the four countries – the US, India, Australia and Japan – closer and this has also enabled India and Australia to come closer in economic relations as well.

When asked whether the sensitive dairy sector will be part of the interim pact, Tehan said, “we understand the sensitivities that India has when it comes to dairy and beef”.

On other free trade pacts being negotiated by India, Goyal said with the UAE, “we hope to make some announcements very quickly”.

He added that the next round of talks for a trade pact with the UK is slated in March.

With Canada, he said their minister may visit India in March and at that time “we may consider engaging for an interim agreement with Canada ”.

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