India, Australia to sign interim trade deal on goods and services by March end
In October last year, the two countries had set the ambitious target of concluding the interim trade deal by December and to conclude talks on a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement (CECA) by the end of 2022.
India and Australia are expected to conclude an interim trade deal on goods and services by the end of March, and Canberra is set to announce investments worth a total of ₹1,500 crore ( Aus$ 280 million) at a virtual bilateral summit on Monday.
This will be the second virtual summit between the two countries, which are also members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue or Quad, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison are expected to unveil a slew of initiatives to enhance cooperation in areas ranging from defence to rare earth minerals.
Australian high commissioner Barry O’Farrell told a media briefing that the two sides are set to finalise the early harvest or interim trade deal by the end of this month. “We remain hopeful that the interim [or] Phase I agreement will be settled this month,” he said.
In October last year, the two countries had set the ambitious target of concluding the interim trade deal by December and to conclude talks on a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement (CECA) by the end of 2022. However, the early harvest deal has been held up by apprehensions on the Indian side on opening up the agriculture and dairy sectors.
O’Farrell said trade negotiators from the two sides had done “incredibly productive work” over the past three months and both countries were happy with the progress made so far. He didn’t give details.
The two sides have reportedly concluded the text for much of the interim deal and exchanged market access offers. Australia’s trade minister Dan Tehan has visited India twice since September last year to give a push to the interim trade deal.
Separately, people familiar with planning for the virtual summit said Australia is expected to announce investments worth ₹1,500 crore (Aus$ 280 million) during the meeting, covering areas ranging from critical minerals to space cooperation. This will be the largest-ever Australian government investment in India.
There will be investments worth ₹193 crore in clean technology and critical minerals, which will be aimed at boosting cooperation in research, production and commercialisation of renewable energy technologies and exploitation of critical minerals. These investments will complement a letter of intent on new and renewable energy signed by the two sides in February and help create trusted and resilient supply chains.
Australia has significant reserves of critical minerals required for clean technologies and electric vehicles. For instance, it accounts for more than 55% of the global production of lithium, and the new initiative will give India “front row access” to critical materials, the people said.
In this context, a memorandum of understanding was signed recently on strategic Indian investments in Australian critical minerals projects and Union mines minister Prahlad Joshi is expected to visit Australia soon to take matters forward.
Investments worth ₹136 crore will be announced to enhance space cooperation, including the creation of a dedicated India-focused stream within Australia’s international space investment initiative, while ₹152 crore will be invested to create a new centre for bilateral relations based in Australia. A further ₹97 crore will be invested to boost cooperation in trade, skills and innovations.
The two sides will also announce the India-Australia young defence officers exchange programme, named in honour of the late chief of defence staff, Gen Bipin Rawat, to promote ties between the defence forces, enhance training opportunities and improve information-sharing on maritime security.
A letter of intent on migration and mobility partnership arrangements is expected to be signed to support mobility for citizens of both sides and this will lead to a full-fledged agreement in the field. The two sides will also set a task force on recognition of educational qualifications to boost access to higher education and support employment opportunities.
Australia will also announce the return of 29 significant Indian artefacts from its National Gallery and a MoU will be signed for cooperation between Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service and India’s Prasar Bharati.
The two countries had upgraded their relations to a comprehensive strategic partnership during the 2020 virtual summit and Monday’s summit will focus on initiatives that help deliver resilience, prosperity and security for the region and create the architect to fit a post-pandemic world, the people said.