India and Australia failed to make a headway in finalising the long overdue free trade deal during Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s first visit to India though he got along well with his counterpart Narendra Modi, the media here said today. Turnbull’s trip had raised high hopes of breathing new life into the stalled trade negotiations but the two leaders admitted that the progress was “very slow”. Turnbull said there was no point in setting arbitrary time frames for the agreement. “You can sign an agreement any time, its a question of whether its got the provisions that make it valuable and worthwhile from Australia’s point of view,” Turnbull was quoted as saying by Skynews TV channel. The two covered a range of issues in their formal discussions yesterday including national security, counter terrorism, education and energy and signed six agreements.
The Australian newspaper wrote that The Prime Minister cooled hopes for a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) with India by declaring “we’ve got to be realistic about the timing of the deal, given a history of Indian protection for farmers against agricultural imports”. It noted that Australia was also pushing back India’s proposals on the flow of temporary foreign workers to Australian projects. Last night, Turnbull had praised Modi for agreeing that progress on free trade deal was ‘too slow’ and that it should be resuscitated.
ABC news website said that Turnbull’s comments reflect a change of attitude from his criticism of Indian protectionism ahead of his meeting with Modi. According to Sydney Morning Herald, Turnbull effectively declared Tony Abbott’s dream of an express negotiation phase had been unrealistic, stating that a potentially lucrative free trade agreement with India was now on the backburner. It commented that the downbeat statement – something a reality check – accompanied hopes of increased Australian involvement in India’s energy market due to increased exports of coal from Adani Mine as well as new exports of uranium, natural gas and reneweable energy technology.
India is Australia’s tenth-largest trading partner and our fifth-largest export market. Two-way goods and services trade between Australia and India totalled 18 billion dollars in 2014-15. Australian Financial Review (AFR) website said that Turnbull has used his Delhi visit to forge closer security ties and make Australia number one educator of Indian students. However, it noted that the prospects of sealing free trade deal were played down during Turnbull’s visit.
After coal, education is said to be Australia’s profitable area of export to India. Turnbull said “Our nations are bound together not just by centuries of history but by millions of people-to-people links.” “The 60,000 Indians who studied in Australia last year, the Australian entrepreneurs and educators who are bringing their expertise and investment to India. And the half a million Indian-Australians who call Australia home – the fastest growing culture in our multicultural success story,” he said. Turnbull was described as ‘in his element’ during his Delhi Metro ride along with Modi.