With ECTA, Dan Tehan finds himself in a sweet spot

By Indira Laisram
Australian Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister Dan Tehan with Indian students. Pic source Twitter @DanTehanWannon

For Australian Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister Dan Tehan, the signing of the landmark deal—the Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement ECTA—is an “incredibly personally fulfilling” one.

Tehan, who first visited India as a 16-year-old with his five siblings and parents, recalls it as one of the most wonderful holidays of his life. “It was the warmth of the people towards us, the hospitality, the outstanding locations that have stayed with me,” he reflects on his five weeks’ holiday then.

Addressing the Indian media online today, clearly, Tehan was in a jubilant mood as he sees the historic trade deal between India and Australia, aptly named ECTA, which in Hindi means unity, strengthening relations and enhancing more people to people ties. And as a Trade Minister to have signed the deal, the act also felt like a gratification for the warmth of a friendship he experienced as a 16-year old.

“This agreement 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 and also a growing number of Australian expats in India. It also brings our two countries closer at a time when there is a global geostrategic uncertainty particularly in the Indo Pacific and enables us to give a very strong signal to not only integrate further economically but also to work together as democracies,” he says.

Tomorrow, Tehan receives his Indian counterpart Piyush Goyal, Indian Minister of Commerce and Industry, Consumer Affairs and Food and Public Distribution and Textiles. “One of the things before we sign the agreement is to make sure everyone understands what it is going to do for the relationship.”

Tehan believes that the interim agreement signed last weekend is “a very good sensible balanced outcome which works for both countries… and shows that it is an agreement that works for both of how our economies are complementary to each other in many ways”.

Mobility, Tehan says, is one of the key outcomes of this agreement. For one, he reiterats the aspects of Indian students and working holiday visa—two major things in the mobility area that will be of great benefit. “The working holiday maker is what we refer to as backpacker visa and what we have agreed is to give a thousand spot to young Indians to be able to come to Australia and work in hospitality, farms, resort islands, etc..”

The post-study work rights for Indian students, who get first class honours, will make them get additional post study work rights, dependent on the level of their degree whether it be Master’s or post doctorate. The more they study, the longer their post study work rights accrue to them, he says.

On the important issue of recognition of qualifications, Tehan acknowledges there have been difficulties in having professional qualifications recognised. “So this agreement facilitates professional bodies in India and Australia to work together to make sure that there is this mutual recognition of qualification. It’s going to start at the higher qualification level and we want to do the same at the vocational level… If we can do that it means the people to people link and the flow between the two countries can be a lot more seamless and lessen the bureaucratic red tape, which is what this agreement is designed to do.”

There are also special visa arrangements for Indian chefs and Indian yoga instructors. “We are working through the finer points of that detail with the immigration department at the moment. It will be part of our skilled migration intake,” says Tehan.

And there is the goods exchange that will see 85 per cent of Australian goods export to India tariff free, which will increase to 91 per cent over 10 years.  Likewise, 96 per cent of Indian goods will come to Australia duty free from entry, says Tehan.

When asked about agriculture, the Minister says, “There is sensitivity with anything to do with cows in India, so that is obviously something we had to take account of. India still has a very large agricultural sector, I think about 160 million farmers and one of the things we talked about is how we would work through the sensitivities. We want to make sure that we got an outcome, given the sacred status of the cow in India, so we left beef and dairy out of this interim agreement.”

However, when it comes to wine, a significant breakthrough has been achieved for Australian winegrowers with preferential access over all their main competitors such as New Zealand, Canada, Chile, the US, who want to export wine to India.

There is no time frame set for the final agreement but given this is a “comprehensive interim agreement” that what was set out to negotiate, Tehan hopes, “It won’t take the 11 years it has taken for us to put this interim agreement in place.”

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