NEW DELHI: An excerpt from ‘Talking Point‘. Ambassador Manpreet Vohra, India’s High Commissioner to Australia in conversation with StratNews Global Associate Editor Amitabh P. Revi.
Watch the full conversation here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogQv7i6Gqfg&t=4s
APR: One of the realizations of geo-economics, geo-strategy, geo-politics, would also have been China’s aggressive behavior when it comes to Australia on trade, and India also trying to diversify its supply chain.
MV: Yeah. Well, not consciously but otherwise. I think the vulnerabilities of supply chains, the realisation that over-dependence on any single market or any single source of supply is not conducive to long term economic security. And therefore, one must diversify all of that and find new partners, not necessarily alternate partners, but certainly new new partners, new markets, and therefore, yes, that does play a role.
APR: If you’d like to expand a little bit more on some of the crucial elements. Zero tariffs, critical minerals, investment funds, because when you talk about FTAs, it’s usually goods, services. Here, you even include taxation.
MV: This is a much broader agreement. Loosely these agreements are known as FTAs, or free trade agreements. But it goes much, much beyond that. It’s not just about reducing or eliminating tariffs. That is one major part of ECTA, of course. Australia has removed tariffs on almost all our goods and the rest of them within the next few years. We’ve eliminated tariffs on 85% of Australia’s trade with India, and more will follow. So that’s one aspect of it. Then we have interesting elements of ECTA, which includes mobility partnership, migration, new visa categories, essentially which includes mutual recognition of academic qualifications, so it goes way beyond that. Taxation, there is an issue of the double taxation avoidance agreement, one part of that is creating some problems and under this ECTA, we’ve decided that will also be resolved simultaneously with the entry into force of this agreement. So it’s a very, very broad agreement much broader than an FTA.
APR: There’s a lot of interest about the new visa regime, whether it’s for professionals, for students. If you want to expand a bit on that as well.
MV: This agreement gives our students here, post-study work rights. Depending on the course, the manner of course, the length of the course they are doing, they would be able to stay in Australia beyond their course to work and gain international work experience for anything from 18 months to 4 years. That is very obviously very attractive to Indian students who might wish to come to Australia, because besides getting their education, it guarantees them the ability to get at least some work experience as well.
APR: We know the sensitive areas, politically, domestically on both sides, say agriculture, dairy, meat products for Australian exports to India. But, is there a movement towards CECA by the end of the year? Has there been political direction given by the Prime Ministers that that’s what should happen?
MV: Yes. The Australian Trade Minister, when he spent a lot of time along with Minister Piyush Goyal last week, he called this a living agreement. There is an announcement that following the entry into force of ECTA, there will be more things that would come in and we will try to get into a full CECA by the end of the year. We’ll see how that goes. But clearly, there’s scope to further add on to various elements of this. To bring in even newer elements beyond this. All that is certainly possible. Yes, agriculture is a sensitive subject. Not just for India, but also for Australia, as it is for a lot of economies. But having said that, the sensitivities are well understood and appreciated, which is why forward movement was possible. And even within that, we’ve been quite realistic. Aspects of agriculture or agro processing or animal husbandry, where we feel that we could today give market access to Australia, we have given that. For instance, sheep meat, wool, some amount of cotton, and wine is a part of this. So there are several elements, even in that space, wherever it’s workable, it has been possible to agree.
APR: Minister Goyal had you know a plethora of meetings across the board. When you talk about politics, he even met shadow ministers. Within Australia, with the poll process on, is there bipartisan support for the deal with India?
MV: Yes. I can say that categorically. And it’s very heartening to see the very, very strong bipartisan support for the larger relationship with India. But, also particularly for this new agreement. Both parties, obviously the ruling coalition is the one that has signed this agreement, and the opposition party has also lent support to it.
APR: The speed of this being negotiated. Before this there was the FTA, the CEPA with the UAE. Dan Tehan at one of the events with Piyush Goyal talked about his conversations with say the USTR or his counterparts in the UK and in Canada. With India negotiating a host of other deals, do you think ECTA could be a template of sorts to show that this is what can be done? India is ready for business or open for business.
MV: It appears so. I can vouch for the fact that some of the countries that you mentioned have been following closely the state of negotiations with Australia and how and where and what contours ECTA takes. And yes, clearly I suppose there are signals in this for other countries as well. And the most important signal is what I said earlier. If a deal can be mutually beneficial, it is seen as a win-win for both sides. It’s certainly possible to conclude it.