In advance of an anticipated reopening of talks about the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), which took place in 2015, Australian High Commissioner Barry O’ Farrell said the industry needs to get behind free trade talks. He also voiced support for the Indian patent waiver proposal for the Covid vaccine, which would be somewhat
Is there a timetable for the CECA talks to resume?
The good news is that at bilateral talks in June last year, both Prime Ministers pledged to re- engage on the CECA. Officials are meeting to discuss the situation, but the persistent COVID travel restrictions have delayed things down. The Australian Minister for Trade had hoped to travel to the United States in April or May. One of the problems being discussed is whether they should start from the beginning [in 2015, when discussions were interrupted] or from Ground Zero?
The sooner we have clearer lines of economic engagement, which a free trade deal provides, the stronger both of our economies will become in the post-COVID future, so we are looking forward to it.
What to expect from the next couple of weeks?
Not much to expect from the next couple of weeks because it takes time to reach these agreements. Nonetheless, Australia is committed to reaching an agreement with India on a high-quality free trade agreement.
If I may add, I believe the Indian industry must be persuaded that now is the right time to do business in Australia. Economic changes, such as FTAs, have always been accompanied by a chorus of Australian corporate voices pressing the government to proceed, and we must guarantee that business in India is likewise supportive of our goals.
Could you confirm that former Prime Minister Tony Abbott would be visiting as a special advisor on the FTA negotiations?
I’m convinced that the trade minister (Dan Tehan) will lead the conversations, and both Prime Ministers Morrison and Modi will be heavily involved. But it’s no secret that Tony Abbott played a key role in the earlier push to secure a free trade agreement with India.
Tony Abbott was scheduled to visit India in April for the Raisina conversation, but it was postponed, so he paid a visit.
Is negotiating the CECA a race against the clock, considering that the 15-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which includes Australia, is almost complete?
Australia will always want to interact with foreign countries where they believe a business interest exists that does not jeopardize national security. It was up to India to determine whether or not to join the RCEP. And, from where we sit today, India’s decision appears to be as sound as it was back then.
What can you inform Indian students about how soon they might be able to go to Australia to further their education?
I would like to see a demonstration of the various ways in which students can be returned to several states before the end of this year. And so next year, I’m optimistic. I think this will please the students who were supposed to be in Australia here in India? No, and I’m sympathetic with them very much.