House debates

Thursday, 9 March 2023


Treaties Joint Committee; Report

11:29 am

Photo of Dan TehanDan Tehan (Wannon, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) Share this | Hansard source

It's a great honour to speak on Report 202: Australia-India economic cooperation and trade agreement. It is particularly poignant that we are speaking about this Australia-India trade agreement today, because, as we are all aware, the Prime Minister is in India at the moment with a trade delegation, building on the work that has been done through this trade agreement. If you want to see the benefits of the Australia-India free trade agreement coming to the fore already, you don't have to look any further than what is occurring in India right now. The Prime Minister is over there, building on the work that was done last year through the signing of this agreement. All of us, I know, wish the Prime Minister and his delegation all the very best and the greatest of success, because, if that trade delegation is a success, it means that we're going to see more success into the future. We all know and understand how important the economic relationship with India is, and is going to be, into the future.

This report sets that out. There are a number of details in this report as to the types of benefits that will accrue as a result of the Australia-India free trade agreement. They are across the board, but there is one figure that I think is worth all of us noting. The national interest analysis says there will be a net gain for the Australian economy because the Australian government expects exporters to save approximately $2 billion over the forward estimates, to 2025-26, as a result of this agreement.

There are a number of areas that we can specifically turn to that will benefit Australian exporters. When it comes to lentils, almonds, oranges, mandarins and pears, all these products from Australia will benefit in terms of their access to the Indian market. When it comes to coal, LNG, alumina, most metallic ores, certain non-ferrous metals, manganese ores, tungsten ores and concentrates, rare earth oxides, zirconium concentrates, pharmaceutical products, certain medical devices and sandalwood—all these and more—Australian exporters will benefit.

But, like any good free trade agreement, it will also benefit Indian exporters. We have to welcome that. You can't have a free trade agreement which only goes one way. Then it's not free trade. You need that agreement to benefit both economies. When it benefits both economies, it lifts both economies up. There is no more important economic player in the world today than India. India's economy continues to grow at a phenomenal rate. India continues to be more and more outward looking. India continues to understand that it has a key role to play in the Indo-Pacific and ensuring the economic development of the Indo-Pacific. That is why this agreement is so important.

There have been a lot of attempts at negotiating an Australia-India free trade agreement. As a matter of fact, when I became Australia's trade minister and I floated the idea that we should have another go at it, I received phone calls from people saying: 'Don't waste your time. It's been tried and, every time, it has collapsed at the last hurdle.' But, I've got to say, when a challenge is put to you, and people say to you that you'll never be able to do something, it does inherently raise the competitive juices a little bit more, and you go: 'Well, I'd like to prove you wrong.' I give a big shout-out to my good friend Piyush Goyal, the Indian commerce minister. I know he felt exactly the same way. That is why, during the pandemic—which made it incredibly difficult—we set about the task of negotiating this free-trade agreement. We did it because we wanted to prove the naysayers wrong, to prove that we could negotiate an agreement which would benefit both countries.

That's exactly what we did. Over a period of about three months, we spoke almost daily. If we didn't speak every day, we spoke every second day, to make sure that we could get this agreement done. That investment of time that Piyush put into this agreement should always be recognised. You have to remember that, for us, I was a trade minister for 25 million people; he's a commerce secretary for about 1.4 billion people. So the competition for his time is immense. But he was determined to see this agreement come to the fore, and that is exactly what took place. He needs a big shout-out when it comes to what was achieved here.

We should also recognise Prime Minister Modi and former prime minister Morrison, because the unique relationship they had meant that, when the hard decisions had to be made, when we needed to discuss those very sensitive issues, we could do it knowing that our prime ministers had our back. That's incredibly important, because self-interest always comes to the fore when you are negotiating these agreements, but the support of both our leaders meant that we could put that aside and we knew that they would support us.

I also want to give a shout-out to former prime minister Tony Abbott, who also has a very unique relationship with Prime Minister Modi. I made him the special envoy for trade with India, and he was able, through the pandemic, to help me in terms of the travelling to and from India to make sure we could keep progress going on this agreement. And that is exactly what we were able to do.

I once again give a big shout-out to our negotiators. It was done, as I've said, through the pandemic, so a lot of the negotiations were done via Zoom or other secure links to make sure that we could keep things pushing along. We also had to travel to India three or four times during the pandemic, and that obviously brought with it its own risks. In particular, it meant that we had to do a couple of weeks quarantine when we returned home. But our negotiators had a single-mindedness in their approach to this to make sure that we got the job done. I give all of them a big shout-out, not only those on the Australian side but also those on the Indian side.

I think, of all the free trade agreements that Australia has done in the last 10 to 15 years, this agreement, over time, will be seen as one of the most important. Just think about the potential of the—

A division having been called in the House of Representativ es—

Sitting suspended from 11 : 38 to 12 : 10

Before the suspension, I was talking about the significance of this agreement for Australia's future, for India's future and for the ties between our two nations into the future. This agreement will build a foundation which I think will enhance our relationship like no other agreement that we have seen. The economic potential of both economies and the complementary nature of both economies mean that this agreement will continue to grow and grow. There is still more to be done on the economic relationship, but this is a fantastic start. I am so pleased that this report recommends that that agreement be signed and put into treaty status so we can reap the benefits of it.


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