Australia-India free trade pact at an advanced stage: Australian envoy

New Delhi, June 1 (IANS) Talks on an India-Australia free trade agreement are in an advanced stage, but Australia is currently unable to commit on a timeline for its finalisation owing to the forthcoming federal elections, the Australian envoy to India said on Wednesday.

“We believe we are about 8 weeks away from concluding the Australia-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA)… the talks are very much in the advanced stages,” High Commissioner Harinder Sidhu said here following a talk she delivered on “Pathways to Trade Liberalisation”.

Explaining that CECA had a last December timeline for concluding what are “genuinely complex negotiations”, the high commissioner said: “The Australian trade envoy was here as recently as April, so the talks haven’t stalled.

“But the reason I can’t commit on a timeline is because currently we have a caretaker government with the federal elections due in July. So I can’t commit a timeline to a future government.”

The complex nature of FTA negotiations are borne out by the fact of 10 years taken to conclude such an agreement with Australia’s major trading partner China, and nine years each for FTAs with Japan and South Korea.

Following the recent meeting here with Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb, India’s Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that India was negotiating with Australia for a better deal in services and both sides were getting closer to a deal.

Noting that with Australia having signed the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), described as largest regional trade pact in history, with US, Japan and 10 other Pacific-Rim nations in February, Sidhu said “the focus now is on concluding the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) negotiations that involve the group of 16 countries composed of the ten Asean members (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Laos and Vietnam) and their six free trade agreement partners — India, China, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

“India should have a regional voice commensurate with its status and size.”

Describing from the Australian experience of how trade can boost economic development also because of the confidence such regional pacts provide to partners about the “operating environment for business”, she said there are currently over 300 FTAs in existence globally

“Regional agreements have been around for a while and they’re generally complementary,” the Indian-origin Sidhu said in response to a query.

To a query regarding uranium supplies from Australia for India’s nuclear power plants, she said that with the civil nuclear agreement between both countries in place, there is “active engagement underway” to complete the formalities of commercial shipment of the fuel.

–IANS

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