Australia and India formally inked a trade agreement, signalling their determination to pursue closer trade ties.
Trade Minister Dan Tehan and India’s Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal signed the Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement in a virtual ceremony.
The virtual event was witnessed by Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Morrison, who has been in talks with India for a decade, is set to announce a general election in the coming days. He has been eager to complete the trade pact before campaigning begins.
Morrison told reporters in Tasmania that the deal with the world’s second most populous country represented “one of the biggest economic gateways that the world has to open today.”
“As far as we’re concerned, these are never all or nothing deals; we see all of these as the next step, the next step, and the next step,” he said, stressing both countries’ desire to strengthen trade ties.
After diplomatic spats led to Beijing boycotting specific Australian products, Morrison’s government is attempting to diversify export markets and reduce Australia’s reliance on its largest trading partner, China.
The agreement with India eliminates tariffs on more than 85% of Australia’s goods exports to India, valued A$12.6 billion, with the percentage rising to nearly 91 percent over ten years.
Tariffs on sheep meat, wool, copper, coal, alumina, fresh Australian rock lobster, and a few key minerals and nonferrous metals would be eliminated for export to India.
96 percent of Indian items imported into Australia will be duty-free.
The federal government announced on Friday that both countries will continue to negotiate toward a full free trade deal.
Minister of Commerce and Industry Goyal said after the agreement was signed that India wanted to go on with a complete free trade agreement with Australia “as quickly as possible.”
“As soon as this agreement takes effect, we’ll go to work on the next level to turn this into a comprehensive economic cooperation,” he said.
Even if the Morrison government is replaced in the 2019 national election, Trade Minister Tehan expressed confidence that negotiations will move further.
In the run-up to the general election in May, Scott Morrison is trailing in the polls.
“I have a strong belief that, regardless of who fills our seats in the future, we will be able to… build on this ground-breaking agreement,” he said.