Press conference with Indian media

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

DAN TEHAN: Australia–India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement, AI ECTA, and it’s very telling that the name came from the Indian Government side, from Prime Minister Modi and Trade Minister Goyal, because in Hindu ‘ekta’ means unity and they wanted this described as a unity agreement, and it is a unity agreement. It ties our two economies more closely together at a telling time in the economic environment, but it also binds our two peoples closer together. Obviously, we have a large Indian diaspora here in Australia and also a growing, albeit smaller, Australian diaspora in India.

It also brings our two countries closer together at a time when there is global geostrategic uncertainty and particularly in the Indo–Pacific and enables us to give a very strong signal of not only do we want to integrate further economically, not only do we want to keep enhancing those people‑to‑people links, but also we want to work together as democracies to deal with the geostrategic challenges that the world faces at this time.

I think what we’ve been able to achieve through the free trade agreement is a very good, sensible balanced outcome which works for both countries, and the way that it’s been reported and received in both countries, I think, shows that it is an agreement that works for both of us. Our economies are complementary in many ways and, in particular, when it comes to the rare earths, critical minerals, when it comes to other aspects like coal, we will be able to provide much-needed resources to help downstream processing in India.

When you look at things like what we’re agreeing with regards to education, obviously, we’re a great service supplier when it comes to education. There are tens of thousands of Indian students who come to Australia to study; we’ll be able to make sure that grows and develops so that Australian students can go to India and Indian students can come to Australia and do part of their degrees and then go back to India to finish them. There is what we’ve done with regards to mobility, greater access for Indian tourists and especially young Indian tourists. We’ve expanded the working holidaymaker visa program [indistinct]. Indian students who achieve first‑class honours in STEM and also in the technology area, they will be able to benefit significantly through increased post‑study work rights.

And then, of course, there’s the wonderful goods exchange. We’ll see 85percent of Australian goods exports to India become tariff free and that increases to 91percent over 10years, and then 96percent of Indian goods will come into Australia duty free from entry into force —so it is an incredibly important outcome for our two countries. It’s one that I’ve been very, very pleased to be able to work so closely on with my good friend Piyush Goyal. I think it reflects the great friendship between our two Prime Ministers, Prime Minister Morrison and Prime Minister Modi; the strength of the relationship between Prime Minister Modi and with special envoy Tony Abbott, our former Prime Minister; and also both our High Commissioners obviously are doing outstanding work as well.

And can I just finish by thanking our two negotiating teams. They’ve done a terrific job in making sure that the i’s were dotted and the t’s were crossed, and what we’ve been able to produce legally, all done in this amount of time, is quite remarkable. The negotiations took place day and night, around the clock, and so to both negotiating teams a huge thank you as well. So, happy to take questions.

FACILITATOR: Thank you, Minister. The first question is from Jai Bhardwaj from The Australian Today. Go ahead, Jai.

JAI BHARDWAJ: Thank you, Rosa. My question is regarding the aspects of Indian students and the work holiday visa. Minister, if you can explain how it will be working in the next couple of months, or within six months?

DAN TEHAN: So, there are two major things in the mobility area. The first is the working holidaymaker visa which enables young Indians to come to Australia and to be able to work here. It’s what we refer to as our backpacker visa and what we’ve agreed is to give 1,000 spots to young Indians to be able to come to Australia and use the backpacker visa and they can work in hospitality, so in cafes and restaurants; they can work on farms, they can work on some of our resort islands with their backpacker visa.

And then there’s the mobility with the addition of post-study work rights. So, for those Indian students who get first-class honours they get additional post-study work rights which are dependent on the level of their degree, whether it be masters, whether it be post-doctorate; the more they’ve studied and the longer they’ve studied, obviously the more the post‑study work rights accrue to them. Then there are also special visa arrangements for Indian chefs and there are special visa arrangements for Indian yoga instructors. So, mobility is one of the key outcomes of this agreement for both countries.

JAI BHARDWAJ: Just to understand, Minister, the Indian chef and the Indian yoga visas, they will be the skilled visa holders, or they will be a separate category?

DAN TEHAN: I’m sorry, I just didn’t quite catch the question. Could you repeat it, please?

JAI BHARDWAJ: Sorry about that. About the Indian chef and Indian yoga instructors, will that be under the skilled migrant category or there will be a separate category for them?

DAN TEHAN: I think that that will come in under a skilled migrant category. We’re working through the finer points of that detail with the Immigration Department at the moment but it will be part of our skilled migration intake.


FACILITATOR: The next question is from Vivek Kumar, NRI Affairs. Go ahead, Vivek,

VIVEK KUMAR: Hello, Minister. First of all, many congratulations for this huge, huge victory because it was much awaited, but still some very important sectors have been left out. I would suggest the agricultural sector is missing and especially wheat is not there, dairy is not there, wine is not that – an achievement as far as Australia is concerned. So, what were the reasons, what were the apprehensions from the Indian side? What were your thoughts about?

DAN TEHAN: Well, a couple of points to make. You’re right about dairy and beef not being included. Obviously, there are sensitivities around anything to do with cows with India so that’s something that we obviously had to take account of. India still has a very large agricultural sector. There’s, I think, about 160million farmers in India, and so one of the things Piyush Goyal and myself talked about was where there were sensitivities, how we would work through them. And we wanted to make sure that we got an outcome and so given the sacred status of the cow in India, we left beef and dairy out of this interim agreement.

When it comes to wine, we got quite a significant breakthrough for Australian winegrowers. Whether Australian winegrowers who want to send in at the low end of the Indian market or at the premium end, they’ll be able to do so with preferential access over all our main competitors who want to export wine to India. So, that’s a very good achievement and one we will be able to have an ability to develop a market in India ahead of our competitors, whether they be South Africa, New Zealand, Canada, the United States or other wine-growing areas, Chile etcetera.

And the other thing which is very good when it comes to wine is that we also have something called MFN and that means that if any other country negotiates an agreement with India and they get better access to their wine, we would immediately get that better access. So, I actually think for our winegrowers this is a very, very good outcome.

VIVEK KUMAR: Thank you, Minister.

FACILITATOR: The next question is from Neeraj Nanda from South Asia Times. Go ahead, Neeraj.

NEERAJ NANDA: Hi, Minister, how are you?

DAN TEHAN: I’m very well thank you.

NEERAJ NANDA: My question was also about dairy so are you really disappointed that dairy product is not included? Plus, what is the time frame of this interim free trade agreement, because how manyyears it would take to reach the next phase of the final agreement?

DAN TEHAN: So, first of all, look, it–in the end, we would love to have all parts of our agriculture sector included in an agreement, but we also understand that the importance is to get outcomes and the Indian agricultural sector is one that’s still developing, whereas Australia’s, obviously, is very developed. So, we understand that.

In terms of the interim agreement, the hope is that we will have all the legislation passed on the agreement at our end in the next three to four months and then it would enter into force through an exchange of diplomatic notes between India and Australia. So, my hope is that we will have something done by towards the middle or just after the middle of the year.

And then with regards to a final agreement, obviously our focus is to bed down this interim agreement, but we will continue working on a final agreement and, hopefully, it won’t take the 11years that it’s taken for us to be able to put this interim agreement in place.

Look, one of the things [indistinct] here is that this interim agreement is far more substantial than what we thought it would be when myself and Piyush began negotiating. We’ve now got an agreement which covers, as I mentioned earlier on, over 90percent of the trade from both countries once it’s entered into force and all the benefits of it accrue. It will be registered with the World Trade Organisation because it’s so comprehensive so, in a way, it’s much more than an interim agreement.

So, we want to finish and have a final agreement, but we should also step back and understand that this is very, very comprehensive agreement that we’ve been able to negotiate. It’s far more comprehensive than what we set out to negotiate and, therefore, we have in this interim agreement an FTA which stands on its own two feet.

NEERAJ NANDA: Thank you.

FACILITATOR: The next question is from Srihari Kommineni, ME TV. Go ahead, Srihari.

SRIHARI KOMMINENI: First of all, congratulations on signing the [indistinct] free trade agreement [indistinct]. My question is: what are your plans for trade and tourism close to the common man in Australia and India so that, you know, the benefits of the trade and tourism which makes them utilise it very effectively? Because planning is one thing and taking it to the common man at the point of implementation is a major aspect in both countries. So, what are your plans with regards to this which helps the economy as well? Thank you.

DAN TEHAN: Yes, it’s a very good question and when I was in India last, two months ago, I signed a tourism MOU with Piyush to be able to work together to enhance tourism between Australia and India because we see this as an area of enormous potential. India was the fastest-growing tourism market that Australia had before we went into the pandemic, and there is no reason why that shouldn’t continue. And when you think about the number of Indian students who are coming to Australia and this agreement will also seek to get more Australian students going to India, one of the things that you see on the back of international students is that their families and friends visit to see them while they’re away studying, so it’s a big driver of tourism as well.

So, I think our people‑to‑people exchanges are going to continue to get bigger and bigger. We’ve got the World Cup, the 2022 World Cup, here in Australia towards the end of the year. I think we’re going to see enormous Indian tourism off the back of that. And we’ll just–and the more we get Indian tourists here, the more I’m thinking that we will see Australians wanting to go to India. For instance, there are more and more Australians who want to go and watch the IPL in India. I know more and more Australians who want to go and see the wonderful attractions that you have in India, whether it be from the Taj Mahal to the beaches of Goa to the lovely coastal landscape down at the southern tip of Trivandrum; all of this provides wonderful opportunities – there are so many more – for Australian tourists to go to India. So, I think, this agreement just strengthens those people‑to‑people ties, strengthens the international student exchange, and strengthens tourism through the MOU and other aspects of the agreement.

FACILITATOR: The next question is from Natasha Kaul, SBS Hindi. Go ahead, Natasha.

NATASHA KAUL: Thank you. Good afternoon, Minister. I’m Natasha from SBS Hindi and my question is: Is there any time frame for the full and final agreement to be in place, and also what are any visa‑related issues that were left out in this interim deal but can come about in the final deal once signed? Thank you.

DAN TEHAN: Well, thank you. We haven’t set a time frame on a final agreement. We’ve talked about trying to get it done by the end of the year but as I’ve said, given the comprehensive nature of what we’ve negotiated, I think both Piyush and myself are very keen to make sure we now focus on getting this deal implemented and get it up and running and then we’ll put our attention again to the final agreement.

Obviously, there are other parts of the mobility side of the agreement that we could explore in the future and I’m sure, especially from the Indian side, there will be further requests on the mobility side. And from Australia’s point of view, one of the areas that I’m keen to see continue to develop is what we can do in the IT area. Obviously, there is the ability for Indian students with IT skills to remain longer in Australia post-study. But I think there’s more that we can potentially do given our IT needs in this area. So, that’s one thing that we could continue to discuss as we head towards a final agreement.

FACILITATOR: The next question is from Raj Singh, Punjab Express. Raj, you might just need to take yourself off mute. We can’t hear you, sorry.

RAJ SINGH: Good afternoon, Minister. You already touched upon the people‑to‑people exchange and tourism being one of the focus areas. I just wanted to ask about the visas for family members like parents and brothers and sisters because that is the most low‑hanging fruit as far as tourism is concerned. So, is there going to be a [indistinct] visa requirements for India as a free trade partner? Because at the moment we are seeing the tourist visa taking up to three months, four months, six months, often refused for the younger members of the family, so just wanted to see if there is something in the pipeline for that.

DAN TEHAN: There’s nothing in this agreement that deals with that, although I must say that our Immigration Department, obviously, as we come out of this pandemic, is looking more and more to streamline their processes to make sure that we can turn around the visa times in a quicker way. Obviously, there’s been a huge focus during the pandemic with regards to getting processes in place to deal with the pandemic, but now we’ve opened up, they’re working very hard to make sure that they can reduce some of those timelines.

RAJ SINGH: Okay. Thank you, Minister.

FACILITATOR: The next question is from Pawan Luthra, India Link. Go ahead, Pawan.

PAWAN LUTHRA: Minister, Pawan Luthra from India Link. Minister, it’s been wonderful seeing your photographs with the lobster in one hand, a glass of red wine in another one, with a lot of wool around you, avocado around you, [indistinct] using it as a powerful photograph for a publication which is going to print in the next couple of hours, so wonderful shots, Minister.

DAN TEHAN: Thank you.

PAWAN LUTHRA: Minister, the Australian Financial Review headlined this announcement urging people to get on a plane to India as soon as possible. You also mentioned mobility a number of times in this presser, but therein lies the challenge. Compared with the ease of travel from Australia to China versus India, pre‑pandemic there were almost about six flights a day, about 72 a week going from Australia to various parts of China, and so there was a greater flow of students, of business leaders, of visitors. Currently, there are only about 10flights a week between India and Australia largely to Delhi and not even going to other parts of India by Qantas and Air India, and this is compared to the 72, which are flying to China regularly. Are there any plans or have there been any discussions between the discussions Indian and Australian Governments to have discussions with the private national carriers like Qantas and Air India to increase their footprint to accelerate this relationship?

DAN TEHAN: Absolutely. We’ve been encouraging the airlines to open up more routes and especially from an Australian point of view we would love to see more flights to the east coast or the eastern parts of–east coast of India. So, this is something that we continue to have discussions on, and my view is one of the benefits – it will be one of the flow-on benefits of this agreement is that we will see more and more aviation capacity open up. And when you think of things like the World Cup, 2022 World Cup, which will be held in Australia, if these are the sorts of events that will lead to more planes in the sky and, therefore, that will build even further the relationship on the people-to-people side. So, I think this agreement will be a major step towards seeing increased aviation capacity between the two countries and that will be one of the very beneficial flow-on effects, because you have to remember planes carry people, but they also carry goods in their underbelly and so the more goods, the more people, and the more people, the more goods, and that’s why this agreement is such a positive thing for the relationship.

PAWAN LUTHRA: Thank you, Minister.

FACILITATOR: Minister, there’s just – before we wrap up, there’s just one more question if you don’t mind. I know we’re getting close to time. So, the next question is from Ashok Kumar, India Sub‑continent Times. Go ahead Ashok.


FACILITATOR: Ashok, we’re having trouble hearing you. Ashok I’ll come back to you offline now.

Dinesh Malhotra, I can see you would like to ask a question. Dinesh from Bharat Times. Go ahead, Dinesh.

DINESH MALHOTRA: Minister, thanks for taking the time to talk to the Indian media. My name is Dinesh Malhotra. I’m from Bharat Times. My question is in relation to the facilitation of professional qualifications, licensing and registration that have been mentioned. What problems were noticed and are there procedures focused on making things easier for doctors, lawyers and engineers from India to be able to work in Australia?

DAN TEHAN: Yes, this is once again another good question. There have been difficulties in having the professional qualifications recognised and so what this does is–this agreement facilitates the professional bodies in both India and Australia to work together to make sure that there is this mutual recognition of qualifications. And it’s going to start at the higher education level, so one of the things that we’ve agreed to do over the next six months is to make sure that qualifications in both countries are recognised by the relevant bodies at the higher education level that obviously are in charge of the qualifications certification.

Then we want to do the same at the vocational level, vocational education level, and then obviously we want to get our engineering bodies talking together so that there’s mutual recognition of engineers, when it comes to accountants, and when it comes to nurses, when it comes to doctors —the agreement is designed to bring all these bodies together so we get that mutual recognition. If we can do that, it just means that those people‑to‑people links and the flow between the two countries can be a lot more seamless and you lessen the bureaucratic red tape which is exactly what this agreement is designed to do.

DINESH MALHOTRA: Thank you, Minister.

FACILITATOR: Thank you, Minister. We’ve come to time for now. If you’d like to make some closing remarks before signing off?

DAN TEHAN: Can I just thank all the journalists for their questions, for their interest in this agreement. As you are probably aware, Piyush Goyal will fly to Australia tomorrow afternoon with a business delegation, and I will be travelling with him Wednesday in Melbourne, Thursday in Sydney, and Friday in Perth. One of the things that we want to do, having signed this document, is make sure everyone understands the significance of it and that everyone understands what it’s going to do for the relationship. And, therefore, your interest in this and your want to write about it is incredibly important and significant and will help ensure that everyone knows about the benefits of what we’ve been able to achieve through this agreement and make sure that the two countries, and the people in the two countries, play their part in ensuring the relationship continues to go from strength to strength.

And can I just say on a personal note, for me, as a 16‑year‑old boy I went to India with my five brothers and sisters and parents and we spent five weeks travelling around India, and it was the most wonderful, wonderful holiday. The warmth of the Indian people towards us, the great hospitality which we were shown, the beauty of your country, the outstanding location, the outstanding attractions and the warmth of the people have stayed with me ever since. And on a personal note, to be the Australian Trade Minister who has signed this deal has been incredibly personally fulfilling for me so I thank you all for your interest in this landmark agreement.

FACILITATOR: Thank you very much, Minister. We’ll leave it there for today. I appreciate we might not have got to everybody’s questions so happy for you to reach out to me offline and we can arrange a response for you through Minister Tehan’s office. So, thank you again for joining us. Thank you, Minister. Have a nice afternoon, everybody.

Media enquiries