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Australia pushes for environment, labour, IPR in trade pact with India

Economic Times | 5 Apr 2010

Australia pushes for environment, labour, IPR in trade pact with India

Amiti Sen, ET Bureau

NEW DELHI: The proposed free trade agreement between India and Australia has hit rough waters with the latter insisting that issues including environment, labour, intellectual property, government procurement and competition policy be part of the negotiations.

The joint study group set up to explore the feasibility of a free trade agreement between the two countries is under pressure to submit its report on the areas to be covered in the pact before Australian trade minister Simon Crean’s India visit in May.

“There is no agreement yet on the issues that are to be excluded. We are not comfortable with these issues being included,” a commerce department official said.

In almost all the trade agreements entered into or being negotiated by India, it has steered clear of all non-trade issues, said RIS senior fellow Ram Upendra Das, who is part of the joint-study group.

India and Australia had set up the group comprising government officials and research organisations from both sides in 2008 to explore the feasibility of a bilateral FTA.

While India is eager enough to open up markets for goods and services and selectively for investments in its bilateral trade deals, there is political opposition to inclusion of other issues.

“The problem with including issues like IPR in such agreements is that the partner country would then ask for more than what we have already agreed to under the World Trade Organisation,” Mr Das said.

India also does not want to take on commitment in respect of government procurement and competition policy.

India has included competition policy in the report prepared by the joint study group for the India-New Zealand free trade pact, the mention is restricted to the highlighting the fact that Competition Commission of India administers a competition policy.

India is also strictly against negotiating on labour and environment issues bilaterally. In fact, this is the main reason holding up the India-EU trade and investment talks.

Australia keen to finalise the report so that the time-table for carrying out the negotiations can be decided.

Indian government sees potential for Indo-Australian co-operation in a large number of areas such as infrastructure development, biotechnology, drugs and pharmaceuticals; information technology, water management, soil conservation and waste disposal, food processing and agribusiness, film and television, processing of gems and jewellery, tourism, and education.

 source: Economic Times