‘Not concluding India-Australia CECA by 2015 is a disappointment’

Nayanima Basu New Delhi | Updated on January 19, 2018

PATRICK SUCKLING, Australian High Commissioner   -  The Hindu

Predictability in taxation vital, says outgoing Australian High Commissioner

Patrick Suckling, the outgoing High Commissioner of Australia to India, said Australia is disappointed for not being able to conclude the India-Australia Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) by 2015 as was decided by both governments. In an interview with BusinessLine, he called for predictability and consistency in taxation policies.

Excerpts from the interview:

Now that the Civil Nuclear Deal has been ratified, will the uranium sale take off soon?

Australia is a trusted energy supplier to many countries around the world – Japan, South Korea, China.

The deal was concluded last year so now there is a framework for companies to sell uranium to India. It is now a matter of commercial contracts.

How difficult was it to get deal ratified considering the fact that India is not party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty?

It was not difficult. We negotiated through the problems.

What about CECA that India and Australia were discussing and had set 2015 as deadline, which was not met?

Again we are still negotiating. It is true that both Prime Ministers had decided to conclude it by 2015, and we are disappointed that it did not happen. But a lot of progress has been made.

Is giving more access to India in services trade the main stumbling block?

No. It is not a stumbling block. It is just that positions have been put forward and now we have to work our way so that we can reach a landing.

We just had a services negotiation round here last week. And our chief negotiators are meeting next week.

Have you now set a new deadline for the CECA?

We hope this should be done in the first quarter of this year. If we want to do it, we might as well do this now. If this takes five years, then what’s the point?

Your trade minister had clearly stated that the CECA was his “top priority.” What then went wrong? Did you also hear the concerns Australian firms had about taxation policies?

Well the talks have progressed and they have identified areas where success can be achieved. Any negotiation requires some flexibility and some compromise. We both want a deal.

Australian businesses would like to see the CECA concluded with India. Also, the Australia-India CEOs’ forum agreed to support the conclusion of FTA as soon as possible. Australia’s experience with FTA is that it benefits businesses.

Coming to taxation issues, what is it that Australia wants? What is it you are seeking in the upcoming Budget?

For tax issues, predictability, consistency, and non-retrospective activities is what we are looking at. The Indian Finance Minister has been crystal clear that the government will not do retrospective taxation and we believe him. They understand the damage caused from Vodafone and other cases. They are also trying earnestly to introduce GST. But it is blocked. But they can do many things in taxation outside the legislation, which I know they are looking at. We are watching the GST space.

The Australian Defence Minister had expressed hopes of Australia taking part in the Malabar exercise and India wanted to be party to the Pitch Black exercise? Where do we stand today?

There had been a lot of progress in defence cooperation. In the last three years, we have agreed to conduct bilateral maritime exercises. We have agreed to do more in army-to-army relations. On the multilateral front, yes, we are open to India taking part in Pitch Black. We were there in Malabar in 2007, I hope this is will be broadened.

Published on January 26, 2016

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