India, Australia edge closer to final ‘interim deal’ on trade

Both sides respect each other’s ‘sensitivities’, says Canberra’s Trade Minister

Updated - February 11, 2022 10:46 pm IST

Published - February 11, 2022 10:37 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Union Minister of Commerce & Industry Piyush Goyal with Australia's Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Dan Tehan in New Delhi.

Union Minister of Commerce & Industry Piyush Goyal with Australia's Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Dan Tehan in New Delhi.

The interim trade agreement between India and Australia is unlikely to include items that both sides consider “sensitive”, said Canberra’s Trade and Tourism Minister Dan Tehan on Friday. Addressing a joint press conference in New Delhi, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal announced that the Indian and Australian negotiators will have the final “interim agreement” ready in 30 days and that the agreement will be a “win-win” document.

“We understand India’s sensitivities about dairy, wheat and beef. We have respected each other’s sensitivities in the interim agreement,” said Mr. Tehan who spent the last two days negotiating the trade deal. The assurance about Australia’s understanding of India’s economic and socio-political concerns regarding dairy and agricultural items stems from growing anxiety among the Indian farmers’ unions who have been keeping a close watch on the ongoing negotiations about the interim agreement ahead of the signing of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA).

Early harvest deal

Mr. Goyal declined to share further details on the specific sectors that will be part of the interim agreement arguing that, “All of these things will be out in a package. Our teams will sign interim trade agreement in 30 days. It’s a truly watershed moment in bilateral relations.”

Both sides expressed confidence about signing a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement — CECA — and argued that the “interim agreement” is an “early harvest deal” aimed at boosting bilateral trade before the completion of the negotiations on the final CECA.

The Australian Minister also underlined that Canberra is in favour of rules that govern international trade. “We want to say that those rules need to be heeded to in spirit,” said Mr. Tehan referring to the current trade disputes that Australia is facing with China regarding barley and wine. The two ministers addressed the media after signing a new MoU on tourism between both sides. On this occasion, the visiting minister declared Australia’s tourism sector is on its way to reopen to the world.

The announcement is expected to help Indian students who were unable to return to Australian campuses because of COVID travel restrictions.

Series of FTAs

The interim agreement will mark the beginning of a phase of FTAs that India is aiming to achieve in the coming year. Apart from Australia, India is in talks to conclude similar FTAs and early harvest deals with Israel, Canada, the European Union and the United Arab Emirates. According to informed sources, India and the UAE are very close to finalising the draft agreement of the FTA which is likely to happen this month.

He said that apart from the UAE, the Gulf Cooperation Council – the six country block – has shown interest in concluding an FTA with India. The GCC includes, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and also the UAE. He announced that the Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng is expected to visit India soon.

The leaders of the Indian farmers have however responded cautiously to the announcement of the upcoming interim agreement with Australia. “As of now, the details are not clear but we would urge the government that sectors such as agriculture and dairy should be kept out of the FTA negotiations with Australia and other countries,” said Dharmendra Chaudhry, spokesperson of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) that was at the forefront of the year long anti-farm laws protest.

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