India trade deal stalled but not dead

17 Apr, 2017 10:13 AM
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Andrew Robb: believes the potential to strike a final trade agreement between Australian and India remains strong due to the high level of good-will established between the two trading partners in recent years.
An initial trade deal would open the door to sell non-competing products, like value-added dairy.
Andrew Robb: believes the potential to strike a final trade agreement between Australian and India remains strong due to the high level of good-will established between the two trading partners in recent years.

FORMER federal Trade Minister Andrew Robb says previous negotiations he spearheaded to conclude a trade deal with India came down to about 20 core issues but the talks stalled due to resistance by the Indian bureaucracy, rather than political forces.

However, he believes the potential to strike a final agreement remains strong due to the high level of good-will established between the two trading partners in recent years.

He also says any agreement will carry great opportunity for Australia to provide specialised services to India that can enhance domestic agricultural production, like irrigation and water-use efficiency.

But selling Australian farm goods into the potentially lucrative food market will require a two-step process where an initial trade deal would open the door to sell non-competing products, like sheep-meat, valued-added dairy and wine.

Mr Robb was the Coalition government's Trade and Investment Minister following the 2013 election where he helped drive negotiations to try and conclude a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) with India by the end of 2015.

In early 2016, Mr Robb was replaced in the minister's role by Steven Ciobo and then, ahead of his resignation at last year's federal election, took up a trade envoy's position.

This week, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visited India where trade between the two nations was again a core focus of the leadership talks, to try and breathe life into the stalled negotiations.

Mr Turnbull said the CECA remained on the agenda and he and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi planned to re-engage the process.

However, they remained coy on setting any more deadlines for a conclusion.

Mr Robb said he sensed a trade deal with India came "very close, to be honest" to being signed, during his tenure as the federal Trade Minister.

"In the end, I faced a lot of resistance; not from the political side of things or the Prime Minister there - he was very enthusiastic - but the bureaucracy was never keen," he said.

Mr Robb said if and when a trade deal was signed, it would have "a profound influence" on trade and business, between Australia and India.

"We have world-leading irrigation practices and India needs that because they have a lot of pollution and where they have water they need efficient use of the water, so the technology needs to be applied.

"All of those areas are ripe for the picking and India would engage very quickly, in many of those states in India, if we can get a deal signed."

Mr Robb said trading Australian farm products into India was more of a challenge in concluding a deal.

Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media

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