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Want India trade pact to be at par with those with Quad partners: Australian Trade Minister

Dan Tehan says free trade agreement, which will be upgraded to a full-fledged Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, is a move to diversify exports & not be China-dependent.

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New Delhi: Australia Friday said it will want the free trade agreement with India to be at par with those trade pacts that Canberra has signed with other Quad partners — the US and Japan — in an effort to take the bilateral ties to the next level.

India, Australia, the US and Japan together make up the Quad grouping. The leaders of these countries held the first in-person Quad Summit in Washington last month.

“These (trade) negotiations are separate from the Quad. Already within the Quad members, Australia has a free trade agreement with US, a long-standing agreement and a long-standing agreement now with Japan. So in a way, what we are trying to do is make sure that our bilateral economic partnership matches the bilateral economic partnership we have with both the US and Japan,” Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan told reporters here Friday.

The minister, who is currently visiting India, also said, “The missing ingredient for us is the FTA with India and that’s what we would like to see.”

He also said that Australia, under the proposed trade pact, would want easier investment norms to be part of the interim agreement, which both sides are planning to sign by December, as well as the final agreement that is expected to be finalised by 2022.

There will be a chapter in the pact on energy and resources in the purview of critical rare earth and minerals with a special focus on the supply chains to augment the supplies, he added.

Tehan also said that he will be meeting his Indian counterpart Piyush Goyal in the coming months and talks on the FTA will take place at that time to ensure that the December 2021 deadline for the interim agreement is met.

The minister also said that the interim agreement will have provisions of easier trade in goods as well as services but this will also depend on the market access offers both sides will be making to each other by the end of October. Under the agreement, both sides will offer a range of goods and services that will have easier and in some cases tariff-free access in each other’s markets.

“That is difficult and that is going to be hard. But these will be the milestones towards the outcome,” he said.

India and Australia CECA, the talks for which were formally launched in 2011, got stuck earlier due to market access issues over agricultural goods, especially dairy products from Australia.

“We can have a compromise and that’s what free trade agreements are all about. There are many ways we can work together when it comes to agriculture. Obviously there are certain sectors that we want to improve our access into the Indian market but we also understand the sensitivities that we need to take account of,” he added.

“We discussed some of the sensitivities, we also discussed some of the opportunities,” he said of his meeting with Goyal.

With regards to Australia’s trading relationship with China, Tehan said, there have been some “difficulties” in the relationship which is why Australia is now seeking to diversify its relationships with others.

“We want to have a constructive engagement with China but we also understand, given the difficulties that we are facing at the moment, that there is a need for us to diversify,” he added.

(Edited by Paramita Ghosh)

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