Australia, India agree on strengthening ties

NEW DELHI (Agencies): Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi pledged greater defence and economic ties on Friday after a diplomatic tour where the leaders bonded over their countries’ shared love of cricket.
Last year, the two countries signed a free trade deal called the Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA), the first signed by India with a developed country in a decade. However, a much larger Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) has been stuck in negotiations for over a decade. Discussions between the countries restarted in 2011 but were suspended in 2016 as the talks were gridlocked.
Negotiations resumed in 2021 but a deal has yet proved to be elusive. Australia and India, with Japan and the United States, make up the Quad alliance that is seen as a bulwark against China’s assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific region. Albanese’s four-day visit to India included a Thursday reception aboard the INS Vikrant, India’s first homemade aircraft carrier, where he announced new joint military drills.
“Security cooperation is an important pillar in the comprehensive strategic partnership between India and Australia,” Modi said on Friday at a joint press briefing after a private meeting. Australia and India made “significant and ambitious” progress in strengthening defence and security ties and also discussed climate change issues, Albanese said. “We discussed the increasingly uncertain global security environment and committed to strengthening the Australia-India defence and security partnership,” Albanese said.
“We also agreed on an early conclusion of our ambitious CECA as soon as possible and I am hopeful that we will be able to finalise that this year,” Albanese told reporters. “This transformational deal will realise the full potential of the bilateral economic relationship, creating new employment opportunities and raising living standards for the people of both Australia and India.” Bilateral trade between the countries was $27.5 billion in 2021 and India says trade has the potential to nearly double to $50bn in five years under the ECTA. Friday’s meeting came a day after the leaders watched the opening morning of the fourth cricket Test together in Modi’s home state of Gujarat.