Australia is “on track” to finalise the nuclear deal and free trade agreement with India by end of 2015, Australian trade minister Andrew Robb said on Tuesday.
“We had a target — the end of this year. We have got a lot of work still to do, but we are still on track to complete that (CECA negotiations) by the end of this year, as we are with the nuclear cooperation agreement,” he told reporters here.
Australia had signed a civil nuclear agreement with India in September last year to supply it uranium for meeting New Delhi’s energy needs. “Our processes for bringing the Nuclear Cooperation Agreement into force before the end of 2015 are on track but the ratification (of the same by Australian Parliament) has not taken place. We got 40 per cent of the world’s uranium and this deal is important for India as well as for us,” Robb said.
Emphasising that the comprehensive economic cooperation agreement (CECA) must respect India’s sensitivities regarding the farm sector, the Australian trade minister said that the focus of the agreement will be “overwhelmingly or principally on services”, which comprise about 75 per cent of the Australia’s economy. The services could include engineering, health, education, environment, project management, construction, financial, among others, he added.
“We already have a respectable goods package. We understand that any such agreement has to respect the fact that about 600 million people in India live on less than $2 a day,” the minister said.
Robb also discussed the road-map for finalising the free trade agreement with his Indian counterpart Nirmala Sitharaman. “My negotiating team has set a time-line for concluding various parts of the negotiations which I have discussed with my counterpart,” he added.
Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his former Australian counterpart Tony Abbott had sought an early conclusion of CECA negotiations, with Abbott saying that it should be done by 2015, a timeline considered ambitious by trade experts.
According to those involved in the negotiations, while Canberra wants enhanced access for auto components, financial services, pulses, wines, meat and dairy, New Delhi wants access for professionals, textiles, leather, auto parts, pharma, among others. However, while India is willing to cede ground on some of the issues like auto components, high-end wine and meat, it is unwilling to budge on issues including movement of natural persons (mode 4) and agriculture.