Press Conference

  • Speech
Subjects: Australia-India free trade agreement.
07 April 2022

Minister Tehan: Also pay my respects to the traditional owners [indistinct] my electorate. You can see [indistinct] is aquaculture, which dates back 60,000 years.

Can I acknowledge former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who is here with us in the room. One of the things that my good friend Piyush Goyal and I had to do was negotiate this agreement through a pandemic. And that means you need to be able to draw on all strengths that you have as a nation to get an agreement like this done. And Prime Minister Abbott, former Prime Minister Abbott's relationship with Prime Minister Modi goes back a long way, and I appointed Tony as my special trade envoy because of the strength of the friendship that he had with Prime Minister Modi and his commitment to the Australia‑India relationship.

And there was some commentary at the time that I [indistinct] but can I thank you, Tony, because travel through the pandemic required two weeks in isolation when you returned. I did about ten-and-a-half weeks. I'm not quite sure how many weeks you did, but you did your fair share. And your commitment every time I said to you, ‘would you please get on a plane and go to India for me?’ you never, ever hesitated. So, I thank you...

Can I also acknowledge former premier of Victoria Ted Baillieu, who's with us today, and Ted, similar commitment to the relationship. Thank-you for continuing on as a patron of the Chamber of Commerce.

And having taken the biggest delegation from Victoria to India, what I'll say today is look out, because following this agreement we're gonna take the biggest trade delegation from Australia to India that we've seen and Piyush, we're gonna match your efforts for your visit this time. So, thank you, Ted, and thank you to the Australia India Chamber of Commerce for hosting us today.

Can I also acknowledge our two chief negotiators, who are here with us today? Frances and [indistinct]. I was looking over before, and to see both of them smiling, chatting away, and just continuing on the friendship that they've had right throughout this negotiation was just a pleasure to see. And it goes to show you the spirit in which this negotiation has taken place on both sides. There has been a real commitment to getting the job done in the interests of both nations. And, Frances and [indistinct], I thank you for the way that you have worked the teams tirelessly.

As I said, we've done this through a pandemic. So, normally, you would travel to and from, you would have teams doing 3‑ or 4‑day bursts in country to seal a deal like this. It's all had to be done virtually. There's a difference in hours between the two nations. Piyush and myself often had late `night or early morning phone conversations and our negotiating teams worked through the night to get this done in what, in the end, was a record time. So, thanks to both of you.

And can I say to my good friend Minister Goyal, it's wonderful to have you here in Australia. Your can‑do approach, your can‑do attitude, your exuberance, and your belief in the destiny of India and the destiny of the Australia‑India relationship is special. And it's been wonderful to work with you and I look forward to doing so into the future, so thank-you.

It's hard to be here at the MCG ‑ and Piyush and I had the great privilege of walking on the hallowed ground of the MCG ‑ without talking about cricket, but can I say the things that have defined the relationship, I think, probably to an extent where it's overshadowed everything else, have been cricket, curry, and the Commonwealth. And what we need to do is make sure that we build on, and broaden, the strength in those areas and that's what this agreement does. But we should never underestimate how important that foundation is.

As a young boy, I travelled to India with my family — I've got five brothers and sisters and my parents — and we did it a month after Indira Gandhi had been assassinated in 1984. A lot of people said to my parents, "you shouldn't go," but they did and I'm so glad that they did because I got a real understanding of the Indian people from the five weeks that we spent travelling around India, and, in particular, the warmth of the welcome.

I was a very keen cricketer. I must say, my keenness for the game and my attributes probably didn't quite match but wherever we went, cricket was being played in India and they just welcomed you to join in. So, I played cricket on the streets from Delhi right down to Trivandrum in the south. And the welcome that you got whenever you said, yes, you'd love to participate, was just extraordinary and I've always, always remembered that.

Curry. Well, what's curry got to do with the strength of the relationship? It’s well, it's magnificent when it's served like in India. And when I got to India, when I was very keen to really see what we could do about getting our trade negotiations back on track and cementing an agreement, I said to our officials, "I'd like to grab Piyush for 10 minutes just to have a one‑on‑one conversation so we can get to know each other".

And so, we went into a private room and we started chatting and it was one of those conversations that just continued to develop and develop, and before we knew it Piyush had made sure that the hotel brought us in some curries. And we sat there, we ate, and we talked for three hours, one‑on‑one, and started to map out what a potential trade agreement could look like.

Now, I've mentioned before, officials started pacing the room, because ministers left alone for three hours is something that they're not quite used to! And they were very worried about what we were cooking up. But we were able to cook up the basis of an agreement that we signed on Saturday in front of Prime Minister Morrison and Prime Minister Modi. And their friendship, which has followed on from the friendship of Prime Minister Abbott and Prime Minister Modi, very much was telling in us being able to nail this agreement.

Because as we discussed and then negotiated, our ambitions for the agreement just continued to grow and grow and, in the end, we've come up with what is called an interim agreement but it is so comprehensive that it will be registered with the World Trade Organisation and really sets the foundation for us to grow our two economies, and the closeness of our two economies, like we have never seen.

And Piyush mentioned earlier that he wants to see the two‑way trading relationship grow to over US$100 billion. And I think that is a target which is [indistinct].

And the last thing is the Commonwealth. Now, why is the Commonwealth very important? Well, at its heart, Commonwealth countries are thriving liberal democracies and it's never, ever been more important that thriving liberal democracies work closely together. The geostrategic environment that we're now operating in is very, very different to the one we faced five years ago, let alone 10 years ago, and it requires countries like India and Australia to come together like they never have before to be able to deal with that geostrategic climate in the Indo‑Pacific.

So, it's time that India and Australia made sure that those Commonwealth roots that we hold so dear flourish into the future. And the way we do that is you enhance a partnership, and this agreement, its very name signifies, in Hindu, "unity". So, what we have the opportunity to do is enhance a partnership so the geostrategic environment of the Indo‑Pacific is one where our two nations continue to thrive. It's one which we can integrate our two economies even further and grow a bilateral trading relationship which hits records that we never, ever thought that they would. And makes sure that the friendship that we see on the cricket ground between our two great Test teams is one that we will see flourish right throughout our two nations. Thanks very much.

Media enquiries