Australia’s special envoy Tony Abbott coming to speed up FTA, will visit Delhi, Mumbai

Amiti Sen | | Updated on: Nov 29, 2021
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Eyeing interim pact by Christmas

Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who is presently serving as Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s special trade envoy for India, is likely to visit the country later this week on a three-day tour to meet trade officials and businesses and take stock of the bilateral Free Trade Agreement under negotiations.

The two countries are chasing a time-line of reaching an agreement on a early harvest package, or an interim free trade pact, by Christmas.

Also see: Carbon emissions and the question of climate inequality

“As per plans, Abbott will be in India on December 1-3 and will visit Delhi and Mumbai,” an official tracking the visit told BusinessLine .

In September, Commerce & Industry Minister Piyush Goyal and his Australian counterpart, Dan Tehan, decided to conclude an interim or early harvest FTA by Christmas, which would pave the way for a full-fledged Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) in 2022.

Inter-Ministerial talks on

“The Australians want the interim pact to cover most areas that have been identified for the final CECA. It would not be possible to take on deep commitments in most at this stage. Inter-Ministerial consultations in India are still on in the areas of goods and services,” the source said. If the two sides are not able to meet the December-end deadline, all attempts would be made to formalise the interim trade pact by early next year, the source added.

CECA negotiations

Areas that are to be covered under the bilateral CECA include goods market access, rule of origin, non-tariff barriers to trade in goods (including technical barriers and customs issues), cross-border trade in services, financial services, investment including investor-state dispute settlement, government procurement, intellectual property, including geographical indications, movement of persons, competition policy and sustainable development.

The decision to re-engage on CECA negotiations, which got suspended in 2015, was taken by Prime Minister Narandra Modi and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in June last year as part of the joint statement on a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.

‘Fresh perspective’

Tehan, during his visit to India in September, said that he and Goyal were bringing “fresh eyes and fresh perspective” into the negotiations. It is possible that Australia may not make stiff demands in sensitive areas such as agriculture and dairy as it was one of the reasons for a stand-off in the negotiations the last time round.

Also see: India, Australia negotiations on interim FTA speed up as Dec deadline approaches

Propelled by diverse sectors such as coal and international education, India was Australia’s seventh-largest trading partner and sixth-largest export market in 2020, according to the Australian government. India’s total trade with Australia in 2020-21 was $12.29 billion.

Published on November 29, 2021

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