Australia, India move towards free trade deal

May 20th, 2008 - 2:14 pm ICT by admin  

By Neena Bhandari
Melbourne, May 20 (IANS) The Australia-India Free Trade Agreement (FTA) may come through as early as next year with Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean and India’s Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath Tuesday agreeing that the FTA feasibility study report would be presented to the government by the year-end. “We welcome the good momentum established in the joint FTA feasibility study and (are) committed to adopting a bold and ambitious approach to the study,” said Crean.

Nath thinks a free trade agreement with at least 90 percent coverage could be signed next year.

Australia wants to ensure that it is best positioned to capitalise on the potential of this bilateral relationship, particularly in the resources and energy sectors. Australia also wants to leverage its competence in services, manufacturing, biotechnology and agricultural sectors.

However, Australian uranium sales to India would depend on India ratifying a nuclear cooperation agreement with the US, including safeguards for civilian nuclear reactors.

“We will take this up with Australia after that,” Nath told IANS.

During the annual Joint Ministerial Commission (JMC) meeting Tuesday, Crean discussed Australia’s market access requests with Nath, as well as its concerns about India’s sugar export subsidies, reiterating that Australia sought an end to the subsidies.

Both countries reaffirmed their common commitment to bring about a successful conclusion to the Doha Round of World Trade Organisation talks this year.

Crean said: “We welcomed the release overnight in Geneva of the revised negotiating texts on agriculture and industrial goods. This shows there’s been a significant narrowing of gaps in a number of areas, reflecting the good progress that has been made in recent weeks and months.”

The two countries are partners in the East Asia Summit and Australia supports India’s membership of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) when the moratorium expires.

Echoing Nath’s sentiments on the “enormous untapped potential” in this bilateral relationship, Crean said: “While India is already Australia’s sixth largest merchandise export market and eighth largest services market, there is potential to do much more together.

“Our economies have striking economic complementarities and are natural trade and investment partners. I am committed to taking the bilateral relationship with India to a higher level.”

He added: “It is in Australia’s national interests that our economic links with India continue to broaden. Our two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on intellectual property cooperation and have also begun new dialogues and exchanges on economic policy, water management issues and competition policy. Our people-to-people links are helping cement India as a key economic partner for Australia.”

India is Australia’s fastest growing major export market for both goods and services - increasing at over 30 percent annually over the last five years. This current financial year, India has become the largest source of skilled migrants to Australia. It is also the second largest recipient of business and student visas.

This is the third time Crean and Nath have met since the Kevin Rudd-led Labour government came to power last December.

The discussions Tuesday spanned broad cooperation in multilateral, regional economic forums and bilateral trade ties.

Nath is leading a delegation of over 50 senior Indian business executives and trade officials along with government officials.

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