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Australia hopes to begin talks on FTA with India

T. Ramakrishnan
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Feasibility study report positive on potential benefits: Peter Varghese

Australian High Commisioner to India Peter Varghese during an interview in Chennai on Monday. — Photo: K. Pichumani
Australian High Commisioner to India Peter Varghese during an interview in Chennai on Monday. — Photo: K. Pichumani

Australia is hopeful of commencing negotiations this year on a free trade agreement with India, according to Peter N. Varghese, Australian High Commissioner.

Pointing out that the FTA proposal was based on a feasibility study carried out by both the governments, the High Commissioner told The Hindu on Monday that the report of the study was “very positive of the potential benefits of FTA.” The study envisaged benefits of the order of $40 billion to the gross domestic products of the two countries on the assumption of full liberalisation.

He said he was confident that India would go through the report before taking a decision.

The issue was raised during the visit of External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna to Australia in January this year. It was covered in detail when Australia's Trade Minister Simon Crean visited India in May last year. His successor, Craig Emerson, discussed the topic with his Indian counterpart, Anand Sharma, in Mumbai in January this year, Mr Varghese recalled.

At present, Australia has entered into FTAs with Singapore, Thailand, the United States and New Zealand besides the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). It is holding negotiations with Japan, China and Indonesia.

On the scope for partnership between the two countries in developing an agenda for the East Asia Summit (EAS), Mr. Varghese referred to the visit of his country's Ambassador for the ASEAN to New Delhi this week and said Australia would like to see an agenda which had components, covering economic and political cooperation and strategic issues. With the expanded EAS, an opportunity had come to build some substance in the regional agenda.

Talking of the Australian business community's assessment of India, Mr. Varghese said the community had got a “positive view” of the potential of the Asian country and “India's growth story is well understood.”

Even though he acknowledged that the detailed knowledge of India in his country's corporate sector was “not profound,” he said the “convergence of economic interests is something that attracts a lot more attention.”

As for the Indian investment in Australia, the size of stock of the investment was $5 billion. A couple of Indian companies, including Adani, had made big investments in the coal sector.

Referring to plans for increasing diplomatic presence in India, the High Commissioner said that soon it would go up by 50 per cent compared to what it was about one and a half years ago. In Chennai, there used to be only one Australian official. “[By September] we will have five Australians, as part of the expansion plans. [At present, the Consulate-General has three Australians — David Holly, Australia's Consul-General for South India, Michael James Carter, Consul (Commercial) and Michael Long, Consul]. In addition, we have opened 11 small trade offices across India.”

Pointing out that Chennai would be responsible for the south, he said the size of trade offices in Bangalore and Hyderabad was increased. A new office in Kochi was opened. “We see a lot of prospects of doing more in the south,” he said.

On the policy of Australia of not supplying uranium to non-NPT (Nuclear Proliferation Treaty) signatories, he explained that this was not India-specific.

Asked whether the issue of non-payment of dues to Australian firms for the Delhi Commonwealth Games was sorted out, his reply was: “not yet.”

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