New Delhi: India and Australia are now focussed on signing the long-pending trade deal between the two countries. It’s aimed at countering China — as is the long-term strategic plan that New Delhi and Canberra already have in place.
The plans to sign the trade deal will take centre stage at a virtual summit-level meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, to be held Monday.
In the first bilateral meeting that took place between Modi and Morrison in June 2020, both sides elevated the relationship to a ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership’ paving the way for enhanced defence and security ties, which was done keeping in mind China’s growing assertiveness in the region.
This time, the focus of the meeting will be on securing economic and business ties between the two countries, according to Barry O’Farrell, high commissioner of Australia to India.
Speaking to the media on the eve of the summit, the high commissioner said that India and Australia now plan to sign an interim deal by the end of March. However, he refused to divulge any further details about what the deal will comprise.
“We are happy with the progress being made. We are expecting to secure a Phase I agreement by the end of this month … The text covering much of the agreement is being concluded, and market access offers have been exchanged. We, of course, remain hopeful that an interim agreement will be concluded by the end of this month, keeping in mind the expectations of both sides,” O’Farrell said.
Australia and India launched negotiations for a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) in May 2011. There were nine rounds of negotiations before the talks stalled in September 2015.
However, with the Narendra Modi government’s renewed efforts at reviving the United Progressive Alliance (UPA)-era pending trade deals, the talks for an India-Australia CECA were revived in September 2021, when both sides decided to sign an interim deal by December 2021.
According to O’Farrell, India will soon begin procurement of critical rare earth minerals such as lithium from Australia, while coal imports will also see some enhancement.
Australia, which is part of the Regional Comprehensive Partnership Agreement (RCEP) with China and 13 other Asia-Pacific countries, has been hoping to conclude the CECA with India in order to reduce its dependence on Beijing.
China remains Australia’s largest trade partner in goods and services. However, recent geopolitical tensions between the two have adversely impacted bilateral trade, while Australia and India have grown much closer strategically.
Ukraine war and Quad
During the summit, Morrison and Modi will also discuss the ongoing war in Ukraine, which has now been raging for nearly a month.
“The Quad have accepted India’s position. We understand that each country has their own bilateral relationships,” said the Australian envoy, adding that India’s call to end the conflict is a positive step in this matter.
Both Modi and Morrison were also part of a virtual meeting of the Quad called together in a rush earlier this month as the war rapidly escalated.
However, O’Farrell also noted that the war in Ukraine would have an impact on the Indo-Pacific region, which is the main focus of the Quad.
Addressing a press conference in Australia Sunday, Morrison said, “What happens in Ukraine does not just affect Europe. As we’re seeing here in Australia, it affects, of course, the rules-based order upon which our own region depends.”
He also said, “So the relevance of what’s occurring in Ukraine reaches well beyond its borders and its immediate surroundings. It indeed shakes the whole world. And as a result, we have joined with like-minded countries around the world in condemning the actions of Russia and giving them no quarter, and ensuring that we are encouraging all others to do exactly the same. To bring this situation, this terrible and awful situation, under control.”
(Edited by Rohan Manoj)