Australian ex-PM Tony Abbott calls for bilateral free trade pact with India

Former Australian PM Tony Abbott (left) with PM Narendra Modi on Wednesday Photo: PTI
Arguing that the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) pact is not comprehensive enough in scope, former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has called for India and Australia to restart talks for a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA).

“Invariably, nations are very wary of anything that might end up leaving vulnerable countries permanently indebted to another. So, I would be cautious about RCEP as it looks like a trade arm of China’s Belt and Road Initiative,” Abbott told Business Standard on Wednesday. On a 5-day visit to India, Abbott met Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday.

To focus on the RCEP, India had earlier decided to hold off talks on bilateral FTAs with both the nations. Now, with the government aiming for a deal with the US and deciding to restart similar talks with the European Union, the two southern nations are wary of missing out on trade with India.

Talks between New Delhi and Canberra on the proposed Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), which had begun in 2011 had hit a wall back in 2017. Government officials maintained that Australia's demand for market access for its agro, dairy products and meat were untenable, especially since the country was uncomfortable opening up the services sector to Indian exports. Subsequently, both nations had decided to focus on the RCEP.

Last week, diplomatic sources had revealed that Australia and New Zealand had continued to push for India’s inclusion in the RCEP pact, weeks after New Delhi pulled out of it. Officials of both the nations have been in touch with other RCEP partners and had been the real force behind the RCEP nations deciding to keep the door open for India to join at a later date, sources in the know, said.

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