By ROD McGUIRK, Associated Press
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Indian and Australian trade ministers say a shared security partnership with the United States and Japan has helped them secure a trade deal that Australia hopes will reduce its dependence on the regard to exports to China.
Indian Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal is leading a trade mission to the Australian cities of Melbourne, Sydney and Perth to explore new opportunities created by the interim agreement signed virtually on Saturday.
India sees the deal as a diplomatic coup that deepens its engagement with Australia at a time when it is under pressure to take a tougher stance against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Both countries belong to the security bloc known as the Quad, which also includes the United States and Japan.
For Australia, the deal opens up a huge market for exporters before Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Conservative coalition seeks re-election next month. Friction between the Morrison government and Beijing has resulted in a series of official and unofficial Chinese trade sanctions on Australian exports, including coal, beef, seafood, wine and barley.
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Trade Minister Dan Tehan said at a joint press conference with Goyal in Melbourne on Wednesday that the bilateral Australian-Indian relationship was growing strongly thanks to the Quad.
“Keeping the Indo-Pacific free and open as a place where liberal democracies can flourish is so, so important,” Tehan said.
Goyal said Morrison and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had been at the forefront of bringing like-minded countries together.
“We now have a Quad between Japan, Australia, the United States and India that has many dimensions, both strategic and political. They are working to ensure peace and stability, greater economic partnership between the countries of this region,” Goyal said.
“I am quite sure that this dimension on geopolitics, this dimension on the broader global good will bring our two countries closer together,” he added.
Australia generally insists nothing is agreed until everything is agreed in its bilateral free trade talks, but has agreed to an interim deal with India.
India, the world’s largest democracy, favors so-called early harvest agreements in its trade talks which reduce tariffs on certain products before a comprehensive bilateral agreement can be reached.
The deal is India’s first trade deal with a developed country in more than a decade. Negotiations began in 2011.
Last year, Australia’s special trade envoy to India and former prime minister Tony Abbott said a bilateral free trade deal would signal “the democratic world’s tilt towards China”.
However, Sonia Arakkal, policy officer at the Perth USAsia Center, said India alone could not completely replace China as Australia’s biggest trading partner.
China’s iron ore-hungry economy is four times larger than India’s.
“This is an important first step, this interim free trade agreement, and especially for the Morrison government. Business and industry have been wary of how trade tensions have escalated (with China) in recent years,” Arakkal said.
“However, to suggest that this is the solution to escalating trade tensions with China is disingenuous, as the economies are simply not the same in scale or complementarity,” she said.
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