BusinessLine | 24 February 2020
Australia willing to consider bilateral FTA with India on the lines of RCEP
Australia is willing to consider a bilateral free trade agreement with India on the lines of the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, that New Delhi chose to exit in November last year, that would capture the work already done between the two countries while the negotiations were on, the country’s Trade and Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham has said.
“Both India and Australia are willing to see if the work we have done bilaterally in relation to RCEP could be captured between the two countries. We have asked our officials to look at that,” Birmingham said in a select media briefing on Tuesday.
The Australian Minister met his Indian counterpart Piyush Goyal on Monday and discussed the future growth path in bilateral trade and investments which included a possible free trade agreement.
Birmingham, however, added that his country wanted India to be part of the 16-nation RCEP at some point of time. “We want India to ideally enter RCEP at some stage. We will continue to make sure we hold that door wide open to India and encourage all other RCEP nations to do so as well,” he said.
India had decided to quit the RCEP, which also included the ten-member ASEAN, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, as it involved a gradual elimination in import duties on almost all traded items and would have exposed Indian industry to some very strong competition especially from Chinese products.
Birmingham said the RCEP talks could provide a baseline for India and Australia to continue any future negotiations on trade and investment.
The Australian Minister is in India leading a delegation of over 100 Australian businesses as part of the Australia-India Business Exchange (AIB-X) — a multi-month program of Australian Government activities to generate business opportunities with India. In his four-day visit he will travel to Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru.
Birmingham said that he and Goyal also looked at market access issues. “We discussed the progress made in terms of Indian goods being able to enter Australian markets such as grapes, mangoes, pomegranates. The importance of continued cooperation in both directions to provide regulatory approvals was also highlighted,” he said.
Australia has been making investments in a variety of sectors in India including infrastructure and the flow has significantly increased over the last few years, the Minister added. “We invited similar investment flows from India to Australia,” he said.
Australia-India trade has grown steeply over the last decade but it is skewed in Australia’s favour. In 2018-19, India’s imports from the island-nation were valued at $13.3 billion while Australia’s imports from here were only at $3.52 billion resulting in a trade deficit of almost $10 billion.
Birmingham said that Australia’s export of coal to India, which the country required for its energy needs, was largely responsible for the deficit.