India-Australia FTA at exchange of offers stage

New Delhi, Jan 29 (IANS) With the exchange of offers made on goods, the next stage in the

proposed free trade agreement (FTA) beween India and Australia is the exchange of offers on services before "hard negotiations" begin but there is no "pressure of a deadline".

This was announced Tuesday by the trade and commerce ministers of India and Australia after the 14th session here of the India - Australia Joint Ministerial Commission (JMC).

"We have got into quite a lot of detail about products and barriers. The next stage is the exchange of offers on services..after which are the hard negotiations about these offers," said the Australian for Trade and Competitiveness Minister Craig Emerson.

"We will have a beneficial, balanced CECA (Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement) between Australia and India with the clear mandate to negotiators being to move forward expeditiously without putting the pressure of a deadline (for agreement) " said Commerce Minister Anand Sharma.

The signing of CECA will remove barriers to trade and investment. Australia says it faces large non-tariff barriers and regulatory uncertainty to trade and investment in India.

"We (India) have asked for more market access for pharmaceuticals, light engineering and textiles," Sharma said.

The annual two-way trade now stands at around $21 billion. The two countries have set a goal of doubling bilateral trade to $40 billion by 2015.

Investment between India and Australia so far has been low but is increasing. A number of Indian companies such as the GVK and Adani Groups have begun investing in Australian mining operations.

The Australian minister said the JMC talks were held in the context of the 2012 White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century, which spells out the importance Australia placed on working with regional partners like India.

The two ministers welcomed the ministerial level dialogue on energy security as a significant step in developing strategic relationship on energy and resources. The two countries have decided the discussions on bilateral civil, nuclear energy cooperation agreement will begin in

March this year.

Emerson said that the JMC discussed India's investing in investing and trading in Australia's LNG (liquefied natural gas) sector in pursuit of its policy of energy security.

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