Canberra, January 30, 2024

“There are unlimited opportunities for India-Australia economic cooperation in today’s challenging geostrategic and geoeconomic context, provided both sides adopt a flexible and pragmatic approach”.

This was the broad sense of a high-level panel discussion titled, “Australia and India: Trade Strategies in an Era of Great Power Competition”, held at the Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University, Canberra.

The panel discussion was the first in a series of events being organised in different cities of Australia over the next few days to commemorate the 40th anniversary of CUTS International, a global public policy think tank.
Similar celebratory events have been organised in India and around the world since April last year, when the first event was held at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in Geneva in a fire side chat with the WTO D-G Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

At the outset, panellists congratulated Pradeep S. Mehta, Secretary General, CUTS International, for the organisation reaching the 40-year landmark. They recognised CUTS’ splendid work over the years towards ensuring that consumer interests are given due weightage in trade and economic policy discussions around the world.
During the two-hour session, various facets of the bilateral trade relationship and the state of the multilateral trading system were discussed.

Experts agreed that the India-Australia Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA) was an important milestone in bilateral trade. Both sides deserved credit for sealing the deal, supported by political guidance from the highest levels.

The early upward trends seen in levels of goods trade and a strong potential for greater services trade and business mobility were pointed out as positive signs.

However, there was a sense that the ongoing negotiations towards the full Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) will be more challenging, given that the most sensitive issues for both sides are the ones remaining to be tackled. Yet, there was optimism that the new areas of collaboration identified within the CECA framework will enhance levels of cooperation in so far underutilised sectors.

Another key point of discussion was the need to ensure that trade is not seen as a zero-sum game. Experts agreed that more effort is required to build the narrative that trade is a complementary process requiring not just an export orientation, but also an openness to imports.

On the multilateral trading system, it was pointed out that both Australia and India were strong votaries of the WTO. However, they have traditionally had divergent negotiating interests within the institution, aligned with their respective domestic priorities. There was a view that both sides need to try and work together to preserve the open, rules-based multilateral trading system and ensure that the dispute settlement system is revived.
It remains to be seen how the goodwill generated through greater bilateral trade cooperation through the ECTA/CECA can be translated into efforts to revive and embrace trade multilateralism.

Furthermore, the discussions touched upon India-Australia cooperation within other platforms such as the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), Quad and the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI).
In terms of Australia India cooperation, mention was also made on defence equipment trade and investment which offers a very promising pillar in the Indo Pacific and Quad context. The return of industrial policy globally caused some concern because of the inherent protectionism which arises due to it.

Cooperation with like-minded countries within these frameworks serves as a complement to the bilateral relationship. Experts pointed to the need to advance discussions in these fora with a view to achieving synergy between them.

Participants at the high-level panel discussion included Pradeep S Mehta, Secretary General, CUTS; Shiro Armstrong, Editor, East Asia Forum; Tim Yeend, Associate Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), Australia; Ravi Kewalram, First Assistant Secretary & Chief Negotiator, DFAT; Amb. Anil Wadhwa, Distinguished Fellow, CUTS; Peter Draper, Executive Director, Institute for International Trade, Adelaide; Prudence Gordon, Executive Director, Australian Centre for International Trade and Investment, among others.

For more information, please contact:
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