Undeterred by the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections, India and Australia are continuing with the negotiations for the proposed Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), at least this month, to build on the gains already made and make conclusion easier once the new government is in place, sources have said.

“Substantial progress has been made in the meetings held in January and February in areas such as goods, services, government procurement, rules of origin as well as new issues. To build on the gains of the previous meeting, another meeting of the India-Australia CECA negotiators took place this week in New Delhi,” an official told businessline.

Trade Advancements

India and Australia implemented an ambitious Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement covering tariff elimination for most goods, except some sensitive items such as dairy and agriculture in December 2022. Since it was an early harvest pact, it only marginally covered services and most other elements of a comprehensive trade pact were also absent.

The India-Australia ECTA served as a stepping stone for the CECA which is to be a deeper and comprehensive agreement covering five tracks agreed in the ECTA, including goods, services, digital trade, government procurement and Rules of Origin (ROO)-Product Specific Rules Schedule.

“Apart from the areas specifically mentioned in the ECTA for coverage in the CECA, new areas in which either party has shown interest for coverage include competition policy, MSME, gender, innovation, agri-tech, critical minerals and sports,” the official said.

Bilateral trade

India-Australia bilateral trade, currently at about $30 billion per annum, has the potential of touching $100 billion over the next few years once the bilateral trade pacts are successfully implemented, per estimates made by the Commerce Department.

Officials said that negotiations for the CECA have moved fast in most areas. “In the exploratory discussions India and Australia have had over the proposed CECA, convergence has been reached over a number of new issues, such as MSME, labour, gender, competition and environment tracks,” the official pointed out.

Progress has also been made in the tricky area of rules of origin and government procurement. “In the eighth round in Sydney, significant progress has been made in ROO track with agreement on 4933 lines (88 per cent) of Product Specific Rules. In the digital trade chapter, 24 out of 28 articles have been fully/partially cleaned,” he said. Priority lists have also been exchanged by the two sides.

Moreover, in the inter-sessional on government procurement in February this year, 23 out of 25 articles of the government procurement chapter have been fully/partially cleaned, he added.