Australia is hopeful of securing a high-quality free trade agreement with India this year, trade minister Andrew Robb said today, even as he blamed “bureaucratic hindrance” for the low trade with India as compared to China.
Robb, who is leading the largest-ever business delegation to India for a eight-day long mission from January 9-16, said that trade ties with India, standing at 15.2 billion Australian dollars, have been a fraction of what it could be as compared to China.
“The high level of bureaucratic hindrance in many ways is the reason why our two-way trade with India is 10 times shy of the two-way trade with China,” Robb was quoted as saying by the ABC news.
“The two-way trade with China, this year, has been about 160 billion Australian dollars, so it’s more than 10 times the figure – so we’ve got a big gap to make up,” he said.
Referring to the free trade agreement (FTA) with India, Robb said, “We want to see a really meaningful agreement. We won’t sign an agreement for agreement’s sake.”
“These things are eminently possible,” Robb said, adding, “I do feel with the political leadership in both countries being hellbent on finalising this in 12 months, that is a very major factor in its achievement.”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi have both said they want a free trade deal finalised by the end of 2015.
Australia has already finalised three FTA’s with Korea, Japan and China in 2013.
Praising Prime Minister Modi, Robb said, he can drive a “cultural change” within the Indian public service and bureaucracy to make it a more business friendly country.
“If prime minister Modi is able to repeat his success as chief minister in running the state of Gujarat then India is on the cusp of a very significant transformation, a huge economic step forward,” Robb said.
“I do feel if he is successful – and he was in Gujarat in getting the public service there to focus on outcomes and facilitating business rather than frustrating business – then we could see a repeat in India of the last 15 years of China.
“Increasing trade in services will be a priority of free trade negotiations. They are very keen to further grow our educational relationship which is already a significant one,” the minister said.
“They’re interested very much in growing health services, [in] high-end manufacturing, they’re looking at building new cities, like China has done over the last 10 or 15 years,” he said.
The two-way trade between Australia and India has grown from 5.1 billion dollars in 2003 to 15.2 billion dollars in 2013.