New Delhi: Negotiations for a free trade agreement (FTA) between India and Australia are moving forward and both sides are "probably getting nearer" to conclusion of talks, Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on April 4 said.
"We have made our offers. But renewed and refined or enhanced offers are awaited. In services also, we are negotiating for a better offer from Australia having given our own wish-list," she told reporters on the sidelines of a CII function.
"So, it is at a very critical stage. We are closed to probably getting nearer an agreement." She said the trade envoy of Australia met her in the morning and "we hope to progress".
Earlier, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had said he expected substantial headway in negotiations for the agreement and has also expressed hope for its early conclusion. The talks for a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement (CECA), also known as FTA, between India and Australia started in 2011 to provide fillip to trade and investments between the two countries.
Both sides were expecting to conclude the negotiations as early as possible, but there were differences on issues like a duty cut in dairy and wines. Several rounds of negotiations have been completed for liberalising trade and services regime, besides removing non-tariff barriers and encouraging investments.
Australia is pushing for tariff reduction in dairy, fresh fruit, pharma, meat and wines. On the other hand, India wants zero duty on auto parts, textiles, and fresh fruits, including mangoes and greater access in the services sector.
The bilateral trade stood at USD 13 billion in 2014-15 as against USD 12.12 billion in the previous fiscal. About the India-EU free trade pact, the minister said India is very keen to conclude the negotiations.
"We want to have the EU agreement signed at the earliest," she said, adding that she will be writing to EU to "quickly" arrange a meeting between chief negotiators of both the sides "so that the progress on the trade negotiation can happen rapidly as much as we now try to move on Australia too".
"On the EU FTA, I want to make it clear that trade negotiations will progress post the EU summit... We hope to move fast on the FTA with EU," she added.
India and the EU have failed to make the much-awaited announcement on resumption of the long-stalled negotiations for a free trade agreement as many bottlenecks still remain.
The talks have been held up since May 2013 as substantial gaps on crucial issues remain, including data security status for the IT sector. Senior officials from both sides met twice in the last two months to resolve the contentious issues so that some announcements could be made at the summit.
Launched in June 2007, the negotiations for the proposed BTIA have witnessed many hurdles, with both parties having major differences on crucial factors like intellectual property rights, duty cut in automobile, spirits and a liberal visa regime.
The pact is aimed at reducing or significantly eliminating tariffs on goods, facilitating trade in services and boosting investments between the two sides. The two-way commerce in goods between India and the EU stood at $98.5 billion in 2014-15....