Australia is hopeful that Adani Carmichael mining project will not face further problems and confident that the approval process taken for the project will stand legal scrutiny.

In a conversation with a delegation of Indian journalists, attending the India Business Summit here, Australian Trade, Tourism & Investment Minister Simon Birmingham said that application in WTO over sugar subsidy will not affect relationship between India and Australia. Excerpts :

On Adani Carmichael projects

My understanding is that Carmichael project has essentially received all necessary environmental approvals, but it still has some plans that will have to be finally approved within the conditions of the operation that have been granted till date. Both at the State and Federal level, they have received conditional approvals and there is a need to demonstrate that they meet the elements of those conditions. I understand that work is progressing well. It is, of course, then commercial decision for the operators of Carmichael as to when and how they decide to proceed within the approved conditions.

Are you expecting interventions by the court in the Carmichael project?

It is a brave politician that tries to predict whether other parties may seek to litigate in the matter, but I am very confident that environmental approval processes that we have applied for Carmichael project have been rigorous and thorough and comprehensive. Project proponents are now working to meet those standards. Not to say that some green activists and others may not seek to litigate matters. We believe that our government processes in granting those approvals have been thorough and within the legal framework.

Is the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) proposal dead?

Dead is not the word I would use. We have post period of time for active negotiations and discussions. Australia would be ready and willing to pick them before decisions and circumstances change, but equally RCEP is an amazing opportunity to form a significant India-Pacific trading bloc bringing in economies. It would be right and proper for us and other RCEP partners to put in the best effort to give best possible outcome there.

On challenges for FTA negotiations

There are challenges. Everybody has their priorities in terms of what they seek to achieve. We are genuine about the extent and scope of market openness, and agriculture ease is a key part of our export-facing markets. I am heartened by the fact that India joined in the latest commitment to try to finalise RCEP next year and has been a consistent partner in agreeing to some of the RCEP negotiating terms about comprehensive nature with the agreement we all are striving to seek and so I would hope that some of those difficulties which we faced in past negotiations may not be there this time.

On India’s demand for more service exports to Australia

Australia is engaged in terms of our desire to see the services sector and industries operate with as much openness as possible. There are then related factors in terms of extent to which we facilitate movement of people and working rights associated with those sectors. And, we have some good examples in our existing trade agreements which we never get that well. In the end, they will continue as points of negotiations as within any comprehensive trade agreements.

Concerns raised by Australian sugar industry against on assistance by Indian government to its sugar industry and matter pending in WTO...

It is possible (to negotiate with the Indian government to resolve the issue). I have numerous conversations with my Indian counterpart Suresh Prabhu about the challenges we face in terms of sugar subsidy. They are not agreeing on the substance of all the concerns, but we would like to try to find ways to resolve some of those issues. I think one of the positives of economic strategy that we have released is look at where we can better collaborate around agriculture forecasting in the future that has the potential to help, shape, and plan across India in terms of support, encouragement given to farmers around crop production and priority areas for development.

With improved capability we could get to a point where India will be in a position of not having to subsidise farmers in sectors such as those experiencing over production. I think there is certainly scenario for long-term collaboration, which we hope can mitigate recurrence of those issues. In the short term, I am a politician and I understand that political challenges exist in India—going into election year, as it relates to sugar farmers. Australia is also a country that takes seriously rules of trade organisation and stands up for application of those in a consistence manner. I give the example of Canada, which is our great friend as is India. We can have side dispute about an issue that does not have to impede any other aspect of our relationship.

(The correspondent is in Australia on the invitation of the Australian Government.)