Door for India to join RCEP remains firmly open: Australian Minister

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The door for India to join the fifteen-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement remained firmly open from Australia’s perspective and the country was also looking forward to re-engagement on the bilateral free trade agreement, Australian Minister Simon Birmingham has said.

“India decided not to join the RCEP. From Australia’s perspective, that door remains firmly open. Whatever India ultimately decides, we respect its decision and continue to support India’s engagement across the Indo Pacific region,” said Birmingham who lost his trade portfolio in an Australian cabinet re-shuffle on Friday and is now left with the finance portfolio recently given to him.

The Minister was speaking at the virtual launch of the Australia Economic Strategy Report at the CII partnership summit.

Birmingham added that he was particularly looking forward to the countries’ re-engagement on the India-Australia Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA). “As our countries meeting on the cricket field, let us hit the ball for six by getting quick movement on this agreement and scoring some quick runs,” he said.

The negotiations on the CECA, launched way back in 2011, were discontinued due to a number of differences between the two countries including in areas such as agriculture and services.

However, as part of the comprehensive joint strategic partnership between the two countries launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison in June this year, it was decided to re-engage on the CECA. The decision was taken especially because India had walked out of the RCEP, a free trade pact between the ten-member ASEAN, China, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea, because of its concerns related to China.

The Australian Minister pointed out that bilateral trade in goods and services has doubled in the last five years and 2019, India was Australia’s eighth-largest trading partner and fifth-largest export market with two-way trade and services valued at $29 billion.

Commerce & Industry Minister Piyush Goyal pointed out that while Australia was a valued trading partner, India’s exports to the country were moderate and dialogue was on to create more opportunities for India to expand its footprints in the country and bridge the gap. He said that while mining had been the mainstay of India’s engagement with Australia, newer areas of cooperation were emerging such as power, railway, gems & jewellery, auto, pharmaceutical, healthcare and agri-business.

The Australia-India trade basket has to become bigger, better and more balanced, he said.

The Australia Economic Strategy report prepared by India and the India Economic Strategy report by Australia can provide a good middle ground for talks and outline areas of cooperation, Goyal said. “This can dovetail into our negotiations for CECA which Simon and I started and I do hope that under the new Minister we will be able to take it forward,” he said.

Goyal said Australia & India have been working together even more closely on the strategic front, be it Malabar exercises, QUAD groupings and the partnerships on several strategic areas. This close collaboration will feed into our economic partnership also in the years to come, he said.



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