Australian Prime Ministers are hoping for a comprehensive trade deal with India by the end of the year

By Krishn Kaushik

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Australia and India hope to seal by the end of the year an ambitious, comprehensive trade deal that has been in negotiations for over a decade, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said on Friday.

After a bilateral summit with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi, Albanese said the two leaders had agreed to accelerate their economic partnership and strengthen defense ties.

“We have also agreed to conclude our ambitious Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement soon, and I am confident that we can complete that this year,” Albanese, who is on a three-day visit to India, told the reporter.

“This transformational agreement will unlock the full potential of bilateral economic ties, create new employment opportunities and raise living standards for the people of Australia and India.”

Last year, the two countries signed a free trade agreement called ECTA (Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement), the first India has signed with a developed country in a decade.

For the much larger Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), however, talks had started in 2011 but were suspended in 2016 as talks stalled.

Negotiations resumed in 2021, but no agreement was reached.

ECTA came into force in December and eliminated tariffs on 96% of Indian exports to Australia and 85% of Australian exports to India.

Australia’s Minister for Trade and Tourism, who was accompanying Albanese on his visit, said Thursday the ECTA deal benefited trade worth $2.5 billion in January alone.

Trade aside, Albanese and Modi also highlighted strengthening defense ties between the two countries after the two leaders discussed the increasingly uncertain global security environment.

A joint statement released on Friday said the two countries “may continue to explore conducting aircraft sorties from each other’s territories to build operational familiarity and raise awareness of the maritime sphere.”

Soiled ties with China have proved a catalyst for defense ties between the two countries. Beyond bilateral defense cooperation, India and Australia are also security partners in the Quad group, along with the United States and Japan.

The joint statement echoed a similar statement made after the Quad-nation foreign ministers’ meeting last week with a veiled reference to China.

Friday’s statement said Modi and Albanese reiterated the importance of complying with international law to address challenges to the maritime rules-based order, including in the South China Sea, and their support for an open, inclusive, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific where sovereignty and territorial integrity are respected.

On Thursday, Albanese became the first foreign leader to be brought aboard India’s first domestic aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, after naming India as a top security partner for Australia.

Albanese said he also discussed climate change, renewable energy collaboration, education and supply chains for critical minerals during his meeting with Modi.

This was the fourth meeting between the two leaders since Albanese took over as prime minister in May. He is expected to meet Modi three more times this year on the sidelines of multilateral events, including the Quad Summit in Sydney in May and the G20 Summit to be held in Delhi in September.

(Reporting by Krishn Kaushik; Additional reporting by Swati Bhat and Tanvi Mehta; Editing by Hugh Lawson)


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