Modi, Morrison to discuss trade, health, education, defence in virtual summit

Amiti Sen New Delhi | Updated on June 03, 2020 Published on June 03, 2020

Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Australian PM Scott Morrison   -  Bloomberg

India-Australia to sign many pacts including Mutual Logistics Support Agreement

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison will hold wide-ranging discussions covering areas such as revival of the India-Australia bilateral trade talks, the future of the proposed mega regional trade agreement, responses to the Covid-19 pandemic and enhanced cooperation in sectors such as education, defence, science and technology and agriculture when the two meet for a virtual summit on June 4.

The two countries are scheduled to sign a number of agreements as well during the meet which include a Mutual Logistics Support Agreement in defence which could lead to enhanced military cooperation, according to government officials.

“The two Prime Ministers have been planning to meet for long but the meeting had to be postponed first because of the bush fires in Australia and then due to the global pandemic. Although, the meeting on Wednesday is a virtual one both sides are determined to ensure that all issues of importance get discussed,” the official said.

While sharing their responses to Covid-19 would be one of the top items for discussion, trade issues, too, will get primacy. Both India and Australia are keen to re-start talks on a bilateral Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) on the lines of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) pact that India walked out of in November 2019 mostly due to concerns about providing market access to China.

The RCEP comprised 16 nations including the 10-member ASEAN, China, South Korea, New Zealand, Japan, India and Australia.

“Australia is eager to persuade India to join the RCEP talks again and has been one of the key architects of the flexibilities offered to the country to get it back on the negotiating table. But at the same time it is also ready to accept India’s refusal to join and will be happy to work out a bilateral CEPA with it on the lines of the larger regional agreement,” the official said.

More market access for its farm products, such as wheat, sugar and some fruits, as well as a number of dairy items including premium cheese and chocolates, is also high on Australia’s agenda.

India, on the other hand, wants lower duties and non-tariff barriers on items such as garments, gems & jewellery, leather products and a number of fruits and vegetables.

The Framework for Security Cooperation between Australia and India signed in November 2014 during the visit of PM Modi to Australia laid an action plan on Foreign, Defence and Security Policy Exchanges & Coordination. Several new initiatives and bilateral/trilateral mechanisms such as Foreign Secretaries and Defence Secretaries 2+ 2 Dialogue, India-Australia-Indonesia Trilateral Dialogue, India-Australia-Japan Trilateral Dialogue have been established since then.

“A number of announcements to strengthen these partnerships are expected during the summit,” the official said.

Australia continues to be an important trade partner for India although there is a large trade imbalance due to Australia’s high coal exports to the country. India exported goods and services worth $5.17 billion and imported goods and services worth $15.75 in 2018-19. Australia’s cumulative investment in India is about $10.74 billion whereas India’s total investment in Australia is $10.45 billion.

Published on June 03, 2020
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