India, Australia likely to resume FTA talks soon

India and Australia could soon resume talks on a bilateral free trade deal.

Official-level discussions are on between both countries to resume talks on the India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), Barry O’Farrell, Australian High Commissioner to India, told ET.

The talks were suspended in 2015 due to disagreement over issues such as market access in agriculture and dairy products, which Canberra had sought.

O’Farrell also said that the second Covid-19 wave had not dented the world’s enthusiasm about India.

“Discussions are on between officials on resuming the trade pact talks,” he said. Australia and India launched negotiations for a CECA in May 2011.

There have been nine rounds of negotiations, most recently in September 2015. In the financial year 2021, India’s exports to Australia were worth $4.04 billion, while imports were $8.24 billion.

India mainly exported refined petroleum, medicaments, railway vehicles, including hovertrains, pearls and gems, jewellery, and made-up textile articles.

Major imports were coal, copper ores and concentrates, gold, vegetables, wool and other animal hair, fruits and nuts, lentils, and education-related services.

“Our partnership is strong, and the second wave has not dented the world’s enthusiasm in India…Like the last wave, the economic agenda will rebound,” O’Farrell said, appreciating the way the country had handled the second wave through calibrated and targeted lockdowns.

Re-engagement on the bilateral trade pact is part of the comprehensive strategic partnership between India and Australia, while suitably considering earlier bilateral discussions, where a mutually agreed way forward can be found.

The push for a bilateral trade agreement was renewed after India exited the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) in 2019 on account of high market access being sought by other members and inadequate protection against cheap imports from China due to less stringent Rules of Origin norms.

India and Australia are also part of the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative trilateral, along with Japan.

O’Farrell said the Association of Southeast Asian Nations grouping has expressed the most interest to join the bloc.

On India’s Production-Linked Incentive scheme aimed at strengthening manufacturing in the country, Australia’s trade and investment commissioner Tim White said that infrastructure and energy were the two sectors where Australia could add to India’s abilities.

Rare earth minerals and metals were the other areas of interest.

White added that the new focus areas are medical, financial services and technology in the Australia India Business Exchange, the Australian government’s flagship programme to advance trade and investment links with India.

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