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India, Australia ink interim trade deal

NEW DELHI (AFP) – India and Australia signed an interim free trade deal yesterday that cuts tariffs on billions of dollars of commerce as the two Quad partners bolster their economic ties.

Both signatories are members of the Quad alliance with the United States and Japan, which is seen as a counterweight to an increasingly assertive China.

But while they both border the Indian Ocean, Canberra said India was only Australia’s seventh-largest trading partner in 2020, and accounted for just over four per cent of its exports last year.

The Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement was signed simultaneously in New Delhi and Canberra by India’s Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal and his Australian counterpart Dan Tehan in a joint ceremony.

India and Australia are “natural partners, connected by shared values of democracy, rule of law and transparency”, Goyal said.

India’s Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal. PHOTO: AFP

“Our relationship rests on the pillars of trust and reliability aptly reflected in our deepening geo-strategic engagement through the QUAD and the supply chain resilience initiative.”

Two-way trade reached around USD27.5 billion last year according to New Delhi, with resource-rich Australia exporting coal and other commodities, along with sheep meat, and India largely supplying finished goods and services.

The agreement “delivers a clear message that democracies are working together and ensuring the security and resilience of our supply chains”, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said at yesterday’s signing.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi added it would “contribute to increasing supply chain resilience and to the stability of the Indo-Pacific region”.

Negotiations on a comprehensive deal between India and Australia were launched more than a decade ago but stalled in 2015.

A full trade pact is now being negotiated and Morrison, who called Modi a “dear and trusted friend”, said he hoped it would be signed by the end of the year.

Yesterday’s agreement cuts tariffs on more than 85 per cent of Australian exports to India.

In an accompanying statement, Morrison highlighted several products hit hard by the Chinese trade dispute – including coal and rock lobsters – which will benefit under the Indian deal, calling it “a big door into the world’s fastest-growing major economy”.

His conservative government is trailing in the polls ahead of an election in May, and the tensions with China are a key issue.