Australian PM in India to push bilateral trade deal

10 Apr 2017


Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is in India to push for a revival of stalled talks on a bilateral trade deal and the two countries are reported to have agreed to restart talks, although both agree that chances of any early breakthrough are slim.

Turnbull, who is on a Visit to New Delhi, said he was prioritising the broader Asia-Pacific forum that includes China, but said Australia cannot overlook India's market for farm exports from Australia and opportunities for skilled Indian workers there.

Turnbull, after a meeting with his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, said the two had agreed to make a fresh push on a proposed bilateral Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA).

"We had a very good discussion about the CECA, and I think it's fair to say that progress has not been as fast as either of us would like it to be," Turnbull told a joint news conference.

"We will ask our negotiators to schedule an early meeting to get the process moving."

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) has emerged as Australia's main opportunity to bolster its trade prospects after US President Donald Trump pulled out of another, broader, trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, after taking office in January.

It groups the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and a further half-dozen countries, including India, with which ASEAN has free trade deals.

Speaking earlier to Australian journalists, Turnbull said "we've got to be realistic about timing" for a bilateral deal with India. "It's important to have an agreement that meets your requirements," he said.

Australia's trade with India has doubled over the past decade to around $20 billion, Turnbull said, but added that it was a fraction of what it could and should be.

Turnbull is accompanied by a business delegation and heads of academic institutions.

Australia is second is the most popular foreign destination for Indians studying abroad after the United States.

"We see our temporary migration program as being conducted in a very focused way, in Australia's national interest. Our commitment is to ensure that, when jobs can be done by Australians, they are done by Australians," he said earlier.

"When there is a genuine shortage of skills, we can bring in skilled persons from overseas - a great many of those have come from India."

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