Joint Press Conference Australia-India Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement

  • Transcript, E&OE
Subjects: Australia India free trade agreement.
02 April 2022

DAN TEHAN: My good friend Indian Trade Minister Piyush Goyal, it’s wonderful to join you at this joint press conference following that historic moment when our two Prime Ministers witnessed us signing this historic trade agreement between our two nations.

Can I thank you for the way that you have worked so cooperatively over the last seven to eight months to make sure that we have reached this occasion this historic occasion. Can I also thank both High Commissioners in our two nations; our special envoy from Australia, former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, for his efforts in helping us to conclude this agreement; and our wonderful negotiating teams. As was remarked throughout the signing ceremony, they have worked into the night, day and night, to make sure that we are here at this moment. And to our lead negotiators on both sides, can I express my special thanks to Amrit and Francis for the way that they kept the teams going, kept the teams working and made sure that we’re here at this special moment.

It’s a fantastic agreement for our nations. It’s going to enhance our economic partnership. As you’ve mentioned before Piyush, its name has a special meaning in Hindu. It’s a unity agreement, and that says so much about our nations and the future path that our nations are going to take together. Both democracies; both believe in the rule of law; both believe in ensuring that we have the type of region that we need to ensure that our economies continue to grow; open trading rules that make sure that all people can flourish is going to be essential to the Indo–Pacific going forward, and this agreement produces that, and it produces it across the board. We will be able to provide raw materials that help your manufacturing. We will be able to provide research and development which will help your pharmaceutical industries. You will be able to provide us with the research and development so that we can grow our IT skills and our IT capabilities. It will mean that we can both advance our manufacturing sectors and, in particular, it will lead to greater cooperation in the agricultural sphere. We are one of the best, if not the best producers, of clean green agriculture. India obviously with 1.2billion – 1.4billion people – to feed is also a growing, growing agricultural sector and agricultural market.

So, there are so many wonderful ways that we are going to be able to cooperate together, and this agreement marks the start, I think, of an economic partnership which is going to flourish further and further. I can see two‑way trade doubling over the next short period of time based on this agreement today. So, it’s wonderful to join you on this day which welcomes in the new year in India, and I know that it all points to a very, very bright future between our two nations. Thank you.

PIYUSH GOYAL: My good friend Minister Dan Tehan, all the friends who have joined us on this auspicious occasion, both virtually and in the room today, ladies and gentlemen, namaste. Indeed, delighted that we are assembled on this very auspicious day, Pratipada when we celebrate the Hindu New Year. It is believed in India that everything started on this day is bound to be a big success and all you try to initiate on an auspicious day when we are also starting our Navratri celebrations, nine days where all of us pray to the Goddess to give us strength to face adversity and to give us confidence to go forward in life. I am sure the coming years and years mark the fulfilment of the dreams and aspirations of over the billion people in India and the millions in Australia.

I’m delighted to share with all of you, friends, that today under the esteemed presence of the Honourable Prime Minister of Australia Mr Scott Morrison, and Honourable Prime Minister of India, Mr Narendra Modi, that India–Australia Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement was signed. This agreement, IndAus ECTA, will be symbolic of the deep unity, cooperation and friendship between two trusted partners, friends, allies. It truly symbolises not only our “ecta”, our unity, but also our deep bonds between the people of both nations. It’s a historic day for India and Australia relations. It is particularly very important for India because it’s the first agreement with a large, developed economy in the last decade.

I’m truly grateful to the leaders of both countries, Australia and India, who have guided and motivated us to complete the agreement in a truly cooperative manner, understanding each other’s sensitivities. I cannot but emphasise how much a deep role Minister Tehan has played. I thank him for his wholehearted support, his understanding, and his friendship. My deep sense of appreciation to Mr Tony Abbott, the former Prime Minister of Australia, who, as the special trade envoy of the Right Honourable Prime Minister Morrison, has also helped facilitate the negotiations faster. I’m grateful to both teams, led by Francis and Mr Amrit [indistinct] for their outstanding round‑the‑clock work. With the time difference in both countries, I doubt there was any day of the week, and more often than not including the weekends, that the teams were not engaged late into the Australian hours or occasionally very early into the Indian hours. So, truly reflecting our status as natural partners connected by shared values of democracy, the rule of law and transparency, apart from a shared love for cricket, food, movies and tourism.

Like two brothers, both nations supported each other during the adverse period of COVID, but I can assure you, friends from the media, that we have miles to go in this relationship and today marks that important milestone from where I hope this relationship will truly take off. Our trust and reliability between the two friends is deeply reflected also in our geopolitical engagement through the Quad and the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative.

IndAus ECTA covers a wide gamut of trade and commercial relations between the two countries. We are removing trade barriers and opening up a plethora of opportunities in both goods and services, which will lead to a doubling of our trade in the near future. Great potential for labour-oriented sectors in India like textiles, pharmaceuticals, gem and jewellery, leather. Huge potential for engineering goods, the automobile and auto components sector. Also, an encouragement to our IT industry and the start of ecosystem to look at deeper engagement with Australia. This will also give a leg‑up to hospitality sector both in India and Australia, and also help skilled young boys and girls to contribute to each other’s economies. We have a number of students who study in Australia, who are working in Australia, and I am sure this will send a very, very positive message to our students and the India diaspora living in Australia. It will also create new opportunities in both countries, help raise the standard of living, bring prosperity to our people and enhance the welfare of our citizens. In fact, by initial estimates, we expect at least a one-million job creation in India in the next four to five years.

In services, also, we have expanded the scope of our bilateral relations. India has offered services and access to services on many sectors to Australia and likewise very fairly and equitably reciprocated by Australia. A number of new opportunities will open up for Indian chefs and yoga instructors also in the years to come. Post-study work visas for our young boys and girls who are going to Australia are also a part of this agreement, as is our desire to expand mutual cooperation, particularly in the field of education. And going forward Minister Tehan who’s been a former Education Minister and I have also discussed the possibilities of dual degrees and cooperation between our wonderful educational institutions.

Adequate safeguards have been provided for both countries for our business persons and a number of new elements have been introduced in this agreement, particularly, for example, in terms of [indistinct] to ensure that locally produced steel products go from one country to the other. Access to the pharma industry has been made simpler, thanks very much to the personal efforts of Minister Tehan, which will help us provide very, very high‑quality medicines to the Australian people at affordable prices, thereby bringing down their costs on medical treatment.

At the end, I would like to say: our work doesn’t end here. In fact, it begins today. We will work with all our stakeholders to realise the full potential of this agreement. I shall be visiting Australia next week to talk to the businesspersons in Australia, along with a large business delegation from India, to build the bridges and greater economic cooperation between businesspersons and our diaspora in Australia and in India. I’m confident that IndAus ECTA, our unity in trade, our unity as good friends, our unity as trusted partners will herald a new era of trade and commercial ties, taking this relationship to greater heights. Thank you very much.

FACILITATOR: Thank you for those very comprehensive remarks. We’ll now start with the question‑answer session. First to go, [indistinct] from Network 18. Please go ahead.

JOURNALIST: Namaste, Minister Goyal, and namaste, Minister Tehan. Greetings on this occasion of the [indistinct] Vikram Samvat 2079. It’s a very, very important moment because when we say the year of [indistinct] it means we are missing the misery of the pandemic behind and looking at goodness and growth, so let’s hope collectively for all of that.

But this is a process that has taken nearly a decade for the IndAus ECTA to come about, Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement and it’s coming at a very critical time when [indistinct] is looking at becoming [indistinct] and looking forward to its [indistinct] the next 25 years, and Australia is looking very keenly to reduce its interdependence on China and looking towards India. My question to you is: is this an interim agreement or what are the contours?

PIYUSH GOYAL: I think this agreement did not take a decade. Discussions started a decade ago but were aborted when the previous Government decided that they would like India to join the RCEP agreement and, therefore, the bilateral discussions were kept on hold. As you’re all aware, because they were not fully convinced and happy with the transparency and openness of certain economies in the RCEP, India decided not to participate in RCEP, and it is only in September last year – September last year – that both Minister Tehan and I decided to start negotiating the new engagement between the two countries.

Our partnership has been going from strength and strength in the last few years. In fact, the current data that’s just come out for the year ended 31 March 2022 shows our exports to Australia have grown the highest compared to any other country in the last 12 months, showing the deep strength in this relationship. So, we are looking forward to taking the same speed of negotiations, hardly six months; 30 September we launched our negotiations, and we are on 2 April. And I think it’s been a wonderful experience working with Australia. They have provided 100 per cent access to all Indian goods, almost 97 per cent of our trade from as soon as this agreement comes into force after the processes are completed on both ends, and the rest after five years. India has also provided significant market access of I believe nearly 85, 90 per cent of our trade, and a large part of it is immediately as we enter into force.

We have also looked at areas of interest between both countries and ensured that market access is provided in those areas of interest simultaneously. Both countries have been very fair and reasonable in terms of local sensitivities on issues related to trade, related to services and truly respected each other’s sensitivities and, therefore, I believe this is a genuine agreement between both countries.

Minister Tehan, would you like to say something?

DAN TEHAN: Thanks, Piyush. Yes, can I just re-emphasise what you said. When we met in September last year, negotiations were stalled between our two countries, and we had a pull-aside for about 15 minutes to discuss where we would go and what we needed to do for our bilateral relationship. That ended up being us enjoying the most wonderful Indian meal over three hours while we discussed what we should do about our bilateral relationship. And you and I agreed that we should embark on an interim economic agreement, and what has ensued over the last seven to eight months is that we have put together now an agreement which we will register at the World Trade Organization. It is a substantial agreement and it is one which will pave the way for our two economies to grow into the future. And this document will be a living document. This unity agreement that we’ve put together will be a living document. What we’re going to see is our economies grow together. They’re going to integrate together. Their complementarity is there for all to see, and now we have the opportunity to make sure that we really benefit from that complementarity. And I can see through the years ahead that this agreement will evolve. It will continue to grow, and it will continue to ensure that our two economies join together to provide the type of economic environment that the Indo Pacific region needs at this time.

So, can I thank you once again for the way that you and your officials have entered into these negotiations, for the hard work night and day. I know, ourselves, we were talking on a daily basis if not twice the day. At times, you were calling me at 2.00 am in the morning and at other times you were calling me at 2.00 am in the morning. But I can say never was a cross word spoken. We always did it with big smiles on our faces. We knew it would be hard, but we knew that the outcome would be worth it for both our countries and that very long Indian lunch in September last year has now led to this wonderful agreement that we have before us today and I thank you for that.

MALE: Next question from [indistinct].

JOURNALIST: Hello, Minister Goyal; hello, Minister Tehan. My question is for both of you. So, which areas of services will we see getting benefits or being included as part of the agreement, and apart from services what are the sectors that we see massive benefits from the agreement?

PIYUSH GOYAL: Minister Tehan, you want to go first?

DAN TEHAN: Well, I mean, I think what we will see is both economies benefit from this agreement in a substantial way. For Australia, we will get wonderful access, for instance, to the wine market in India. When it comes to coal, we will be able to be able to send our coal to India now duty free, which is also wonderful for our coal producers here in Australia. When it comes to our wool producers, we will be able to send Australian wool to India now duty free and we produce the largest wool clip in the world and the best wool. So, that will be able to enter India duty free. When it comes to our sheepmeat also, we will be able to send our sheepmeat to India duty free.

These are substantial outcomes, but as Minister Goyal mentioned in the services sector as well, we’ve both opened up our economies in 31 key service areas, which will benefit both nations and, in particular, in areas like construction and engineering where we will be able to work together to help our infrastructure needs. We have a huge infrastructure investment pipeline here in Australia and we look ready and willing to work with India to help them – or help you with your infrastructure needs. So, there are benefits across the board. When you look at what it means with the movement of people between Australia, we’re going to be welcoming Indian backpackers to Australia. We also will be giving post-study work rights to Indian students who get first‑class honours in the science, technology, engineering and mathematical fields in the IT fields. So, once again, that wonderful capability that you have in knows areas will help us, but also it will help Australian students to be able to go to India and help you with your needs as well. So, there are benefits right across the board when it comes to this agreement.

And what we always set out to do was to make sure that this would underpin both countries’ economies, underpin the complementarity of those economies and ensure that over time it could continue to grow. As I said before, this is a living working document which will continue to see us enhance it and make sure that as our economies grow, as they change, we can also make sure that this agreement continues to provide that economic unity that we’re both looking for.

PIYUSH GOYAL: Thank you, Minister Tehan. I can only add that this truly is an agreement, which is very balanced on the services side. It opens up opportunities on both sides for many, many high‑class sectors where in terms of research and development, where in terms of high technology, India will stand to gain from Australia’s work over many years. We’ll stand to gain with many high‑quality raw materials that Australia sends to India already in a big way.

Similarly, on services, there are very deep arrangements made in this agreement. For example, we are looking at mutual recognition agreement between professional bodies on both sides, just like we have for chartered accountants, for other sectors. We will be working over the next 12 months identify sectors and have mutual recognition agreements between the two countries. They have been kind enough to welcome our yoga instructors and Indian chefs in Australia. A post-study work visa between two and four years will be available for Indian students who study well, most, particularly for our STEM graduates who go from India to Australia, and we will be able to contribute to the research and development and the educational ecosystem in Australia.

I must also mention that this – there are over 100,000 Indian students presently living in Australia and studying there. This straightaway will benefit many of them or most of them, and over the years many more Indian young boys and girls who will be going will stand to benefit. We’re also looking at a working holiday visa arrangement to promote greater exchange on both sides so that we can have greater tourism also, and our young boys and girls build the bridges between the two nations.

I’m grateful that Australia has agreed to resolve a long-pending double taxation agreement arrangement issue, which was going on for some time between our IT sectors. Indian IT industry providing high‑quality very valuable services to support the Australian economy – that issue has also been finally resolved between the two countries. There are sectorial gains for many sectors, computer-related services, professional services, like accounting, taxation, architectural service, engineering, integrated engineering, urban planning and landscape architecture services, where both countries have high‑quality professionals who can engage with each other and deepen this relationship. We are looking at greater cooperation in the fields of education, audio-visual services, research and development, telecommunication, construction, environmental services, and both are very conscious of our responsibility towards sustainability.

I think we have a lot to learn from the Australians on tourism. They are truly a joy when it comes to the tourism facilities that they have set up, and Minister Tehan also looks after tourism. I personally, my first visit to Australia many, many years ago as a tourist with two small kids have memorable stories about my journeys there. Of course, I’ve also paid a lot of parking – a lot of speeding tickets as a tourist in Australia because the roads are so beautiful, and you just tended to speed up and landed up with huge penalties for speeding. To but a great lesson. After that, I never got a single speeding ticket in my life ever. Also, the way they have developed water sports, the way they have developed the whole ecosystem of tourism is something India can hugely benefit from considering the large amount of beautiful places in India. So, it’s a win–win for both countries; and thank you very much, Dan, for all your support and from your teams.

MALE: James, over to you for the next set of questions. James?

FEMALE: Sorry, Sharona here. So, from Reuters, we have Sam McKeith.

SAM McKEITH: Hi there. Minister, I hope you can hear me. My question is: given that it’s taken several years to get to this point, how long do you take it to execute a full agreement, and what do you see as the major challenges to get that done?

DAN TEHAN: Well, thanks for the question, Sam, and can I say first of all, really, it’s taken us seven months or eight months to get where we are today. Negotiations were stalled when I went to India in September of last year, and we’ve been able to do in this very short period of time is put together an agreement of such substance that it will be registered with the World Trade Organization.

Now, there is still further conversations and further discussions to be had about where we go into the future with the agreement and we both, Piyush and myself, saw it very much as an interim agreement. So, once we have the agreement implemented, we will then sit down and work out where we need to go from here. But it’s going to already lead to an incredible evolving of the India–Australia economic relationship. As Piyush mentioned, opportunities in tourism – and I was able to sign a tourism MOU with Minister Goyal when I was in India recently, two months ago. We obviously have put a lot of effort into how we market Australia as a tourism destination, our tourism infrastructure, but as a 16-year-old boy, along with my five brothers and sisters and parents, I had the wonderful, wonderful experience of visiting India for five weeks, and the enormous potential for India as a tourism destination knows no bounds. The wonderful welcome and warmth we got from the Indian people at that time when we travelled around India is something, which has also stayed with me.

As a matter of fact, it’s one of the reasons why as Australia’s Trade Minister I could not be prouder today in having signed this agreement, because the experiences that I had with my family travelling around India many, many years ago have stayed with me to this day, and it’s why I think today is so special for our two nations. So, whether it be in tourism, whether it be in higher education, vocational education, whether it be in the mutual recognition of standards, making sure that our professional bodies can work together and integrate further, making sure that other parts of our economies over time can get the type of market access that has been achieved today, all these things we’ll continue to work on. And I’m sure if we put the same time and effort in the last seven months as we do when we seek to finalise this agreement, we’ll be able to do it in a very short period of time. Over to you Piyush.

PIYUSH GOYAL: I fully echo Minister Tehan’s sentiments. Of course, Minister, you did not mention about your train journeys in India. When you visited India you talked to me about it, but I can tell you, it’s a transformed railway system in India, and the next time you’re here we hope you can take you on a train ride also. But thank you, Sam, for your question and truly our belief is there’s many other areas, for example, sustainability; there’s many areas like digital engagement between the two countries. So, we have identified a lot of work for our teams to do. We have identified a lot of potential areas of greater cooperation, as should trusted friends be doing. We are looking at resilient supply chains between the two countries.

I only recently talked to a very large logistics company to see how we can expand direct access to shipping and trans-ocean movement of goods becoming faster directly from India to Australia and vice versa. So, we have a lot of things to cover, a lot of ground to cover. I’m sure we will work with the same spirit and enthusiasm to cover many more areas of mutual engagement. And we’ll do it fast. We have plans to try and conclude it in the same kind of accelerated matter, so soon after this current agreement comes into force, we’ll get down to cracking the whip on the next stage to make this a comprehensive economic partnership.

Thank you very much.


FEMALE: Thank you very much, Ministers. Now, John Mair.

JOHN MAIR: Thank you. Hello. Can you hear me?

DAN TEHAN: Yes, we can hear you, John.

JOHN MAIR: Minister, this agreement comes just as Australia is about to go into an election campaign. Is it an interim agreement and then the negotiations for the full agreement are set up in such a way that if you were to change portfolio after the election or if there were a change of Government that things would progress? There’s been a lot of talk about the personal connection between the deal, so I’m just wondering if this is secure if there is a change in circumstances after the Australian election?

DAN TEHAN: Look, the relationship between our two countries is bigger and broader than any two individuals, although this agreement has benefited from the extraordinary relationship that Prime Minister Modi has with Prime Minister Morrison, and likewise the friendship that I’ve been able to strike up with Minister Goyal over the last 12 to 14 months that I’ve been Australia’s Trade Minister. But, of course, if individuals change, the strength of the economic partnership that we’re establishing today won’t. And I’m very confident that we will see that partnership continue to evolve under this very important unity agreement that we’ve signed today.

But can I also just make the point that these agreements very much they are – the basis and foundation of them always is dependent on making sure that you have very, very good working relations and whether it be our chief negotiates Francis and Amrit — they did a wonderful job and they did so wonderfully and so cooperative together — whether it be our negotiating teams, whether it be on the services, on the goods, obviously there was negotiating with regards to the double taxation agreement, in all these areas there was a true spirit of cooperation to make sure that we can get the job done and, as long as those who proceed us over time – and I’m hoping I will be in this portfolio for some time to come yet – that we will be able to build on the special relationship that’s been developed in negotiating this agreement. So, I have very strong hope: no matter who fills our chairs going forward, we will be able to continue to grow and enhance the relationship and in particular build on this ground-breaking agreement. Piyush.

PIYUSH GOYAL: Thank you very much, Dan, and, John, I can only say that both countries are vibrant democracies. At the same time, we both believe in continuity in Government. So, elections will come and go. I think nations survive beyond elections. Our people and the relationship between our people, our Government officials working together in this spirit of partnership and engagement, and Governments at the political level committed to continuity is what both countries reflect. In fact, my own party came into Government in 2014, and I can share with you, we never went back on a single decision concluded and finalised by the previous Government. So, we in India fully believe like Australia that governments work for the benefit of both nations, for the people, for national interests, and decisions are permanent. Thank you.

And, of course, we’ll work towards the final agreement together as soon as this one gets entry into force. Thank you.

FEMALE: Thank you, Minister. Given the time, we have time for two more questions on your end then we might have to call an end to this press conference. Thank you very much.

MALE: Okay, so the next question from Ambrish.

AMBRISH: Can we expect a full [indistinct] deal with both these countries and what will it include other than this and by when – any time line?

PIYUSH GOYAL: Well, as I said, this is itself is a very substantial agreement. It no more remains the interim agreement that we had set out to originally finalise. It covers a very, very wide area of goods and services and trade between the two nations. But we both believe there’s a huge amount of cooperation possible in the digital world, in the start-up world, in the field of education, in the field, as I said, of mutual recognition of professional services between the two countries. There’s a lot of work there to do on sustainability. So, we have very ambitious plans to grow this relationship and, therefore, as soon as this partnership comes into force, we will be working together for a much, much more comprehensive and enhanced trade and commercial partnership. Thank you.

MALE: Next question. [Indistinct].

JOURNALIST: My question is what’s the [technical malfunction] once this economic trade agreement comes into force?

PIYUSH GOYAL: I will just make one or two comments and I’ll request Dan also to supplement. We have about 26, 27 billion of US dollars’ worth of trade currently between the two nations, bilaterally. My own sense is this will double at best in five years and I think if our businesspersons take interest the way I have seen, the enthusiasm that I’ve seen in my extensive stakeholder consultation – we have had huge consultations with export promotion councils, industry associations, sectorial engagement with industry, large and small, both – seems to suggest this is going to open up huge opportunities on both sides. And therefore, doubling should not take very long, but you know that I’m a very ambitious person and so is Dan. We’re not going to be satisfied with that. We’re going to set very, very aggressive targets to expand this relationship to much greater heights in the years to come. Thank you.

DAN TEHAN: Like Piyush, I can see that this agreement will lead to a doubling of our two-way trade in the coming years. There is no question that that won’t happen. I think it will benefit both nations extraordinarily well, and not only will we see the trade in goods and services double, but that will bring with it an investment partnership that will also benefit both nations. So, a doubling of two-way trade, enhanced investment as a result and further economic cooperation – they’re all the things we’ll see as a result of this agreement.

MALE: James, any last questions on your side?

FEMALE: Thanks. I don’t believe so. If no more questions, I think we can call this press conference to an end. Thank you everyone for attending and have a good day. Thank you.

PIYUSH GOYAL: Thank you, Dan. Thank you, all our colleagues from Australia and the media persons from both countries. Grateful for your support and I wish you well, Dan. I’m looking forward to meeting you next week. Thank you. Namaste.

DAN TEHAN: I can’t wait to welcome you here in Australia with your delegation, Piyush. It will be a wonderful occasion. So, thank you very much as well.

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