Australia’s special envoy to India accuses China of ‘trade weaponisation’

Australia special envoy to India and former Prime Minister Tony Abbott. File   | Photo Credit: AP

India and Australia were confident of sealing an early harvest trade deal by this month-end and this could include some market access concessions for Australian wines, the country’s special envoy to India and former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, disclosed on Friday morning.

Mr. Abbott, who met Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal on Thursday evening, noted that a good trade deal with India would not only strengthen the Quad alignment but also set the tone for more such agreements between Australia, India and other major trading nations.

Accusing China of ‘weaponising’ trade in recent years, Mr. Abbott, who was the Prime Minister when Australia signed a comprehensive free trade deal with China, observed that the Asian nation’s current trade tensions with many countries provided an opportunity for India to emerge as a reliable substitute for global supply chains.

Deng Xiaoping’s motto

“What we’ve seen over the last few years, is really a very different China to the China of Deng Xiaoping… Xi Jinping’s China is much more like Mao Zedong’s China. The era of hide and bide is well and truly over,” he stated, referring to the former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping’s motto ‘Hide your capacities, bide your time’.

“And what we’ve seen from China, particularly us in Australia, is we’ve seen the weaponisation of trade, something like $20 billion worth of Australian trade has been arbitrarily disrupted, or suspended by China. It’s very difficult under these circumstances to see China as a trusted partner,” he pointed out.

“Obviously, India is in a very different situation, with democracy, the rule of law and a good understanding that business and government are substantially independent of each other and the sanctity of contracts has to be respected. So, this is why I think that the difficulties with China certainly mean that India has quite a unique opportunity to step in, particularly with supply chains that need to be absolutely reliable,” he remarked.

Emerging economic superpower

If much of the world was looking to substitute for China in supply chains, India was the obvious alternative, because almost no country had India’s capability to manufacture economically and at scale. India had moved from being the world’s emerging democratic superpower during his days as Prime Minister to an emerging economic superpower.

“The world needs India and India very much wants to help the world right now,” he noted. This is why, I believe India is on the threshold of a real economic takeoff, not just domestically, but internationally as well,” he highlighted, adding that Australia’s rich resources and India’s manufacturing prowess created a lot of complementarities between the two economies.

Terming the meeting with Mr. Goyal productive, he stressed that both sides were confident of a ‘very good larger rather than smaller’ early harvest trade deal by the end of this month or early next month, with a bigger Free Trade Agreement (FTA) to be concluded in 2022. There was very ‘high ambition’ from the Australian side as no other country could make a bigger contribution to the ‘Make In India’ initiative.

Australian wines

While India’s agriculture concerns could be protected through carve-outs in the FTA, Mr. Abbott said he hoped to ‘make progress’ on import duties levied on Australian wines in the early harvest agreement.

“I think anyone who currently enjoys Australian wine knows just how good it is. And I am hoping that more and more people will have an affordable opportunity to experience this great Australian product in the months and years ahead,“ he emphasised.

While he did not respond directly to a query about milk and dairy products, where both sides have interests, he pointed out that Australia was not a ‘predatory’ trader.

“Dairy is one of those sensitive areas, and I’m going to leave that kind of detail to the negotiators. The point I want to stress is that Australia is not a predatory trader, we are a free and fair trader. And our objective here is not to disrupt, our objective here is to partner,” he added.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2022 10:41:26 AM |

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