The Hindu - 06 March 2023
Australia, India to upgrade ECTA to a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement
By Kallol Bhattacherjee
The recent acts of vandalism targeting Hindu temples in Melbourne and Brisbane have “horrified” the citizens of his country, High Commissioner of Australia Barry O’Farrell said on Monday. Setting the stage for the March 8-11 visit of Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese to India, Mr. O’Farrell assured justice would be served in the cases of vandalism, and said his PM’s visit would provide a big boost to bilateral ties as both governments are in talks to upgrade the interim trade agreement to the level of a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).
“Australians are horrified of any vandalism of religious places of worship and police are very active to track down those who are responsible. Australia is a successful multicultural, multi-faith country. It respects freedom of speech but freedom of speech does not give you the right to engage in violent protest, hate speech or vandalism,” Mr. O’ Farrell said, speaking to the media here.
The assurance of legal processes looking into acts of vandalism that are being blamed on Khalistani elements in Australia came two days prior to the arrival of Mr. Albanese, who will begin his first official tour of India on Wednesday by watching the India-Australia test match with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Ahmedabad.
Explaining the larger vision behind the incoming visit, Mr. O’ Farrell indicated that during Mr. Albanese’s visit, the two sides would “try to give shape to elements that will deliver positive results to the broader relationship in the coming years”. In this context, he said the two sides were in talks to upgrade the Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA) to the level of a “full Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA)”.
The ECTA, an interim trade pact, was signed in 2022. Mr. Albanese had announced his visit to India on December 29, 2022, when the agreement had come into force. It was understood back then that the two sides would use the interim deal as a stepping stone for a “full scale” Free Trade Pact. During the visit, Don Farrell, Australian Minister for Trade and Tourism, who will be part of Mr. Albanese’s delegation, is expected to meet his Indian counterpart, Piyush Goyal. Apart from Mr. Don Farrell, the visiting leader will also be accompanied by Madeleine King, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, senior officials, and a high-level business delegation.
The Mr. Albanese’s visit is also being viewed as a push to closer relations among the member countries of the Quad partnership — Australia, India, Japan and the United States — as the Modi-Albanese meeting will begin a series of bilateral and multilateral exchanges among the Quad members. The visit will be followed by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s tour of Delhi later this month and the Quad summit that will be hosted by Australia.
Mr. O’ Farrell was cautious and pre-empted speculations saying that the Quad was not going to acquire a security or military shape in the months to come because of the conflict in Ukraine and tensions in the Indo-Pacific region, arguing, “Our relationship with any country should not be at the cost of another country. Quad will not be an Indo-Pacific NATO.”
He nevertheless said that India and Australia have a “strategic defense relationship” which has become closer as “strategic competition increased” across the Indo-Pacific region. He appreciated India’s “plurilateral diplomacy” in playing a role in countering the headwinds from some of the complex conflicts of the contemporary world like the crisis in Ukraine and said, “India is a master of working with different groups to get things done. The ’India way’ is changing the world.”
The Australian envoy said Mr. Albanese will hold a “significant interaction” with Indian CEOs during his stay in Mumbai and Delhi. The interaction will be keenly watched as Australia has been in focus because of the crisis-hit Adani Group that has invested in major projects there. Mr. O’ Farrell, however, did not confirm if Gautam Adani would be among the entrepreneurs who will interact with Mr. Albanese during the March 8-11 tour. He defended the Adani Group’s investments in Australia saying, “Adani is the largest investor from India. The key issue is the rigour of the corporate regulator of any country.”