India and Australia close to sealing early trade pact, Indian minister says

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Piyush Goyal, India's Minister of Railways and Minister of Commerce and Industry, attends a session at the 50th World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 21, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

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NEW DELHI, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Indian and Australian negotiators are close to clinching a limited trade pact or so-called "early harvest agreement", India's commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal said on Friday after talks withhis Australian counterpart.

The negotiations should be complete within 30 days, Goyal told a joint news briefing with Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan.

Goyal said the deal would cover a wide range of sectors and open opportunities for manufacturing, education and jobs in both countries.

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Trade negotiations received a push after the United States, Australia, Japan and India pledged to set up a so-called Quad group in response to China's economic and military expansion.

On Friday, foreign ministers of the four countries pledged to deepen cooperation, particularly on COVID-19, cyber threats and counter-terrorism, at a meeting in the Australian city of Melbourne. read more

"Quad has added to the strength of the relationship" of India and Australia, Tehan said, noting that Canberra had already signed trade pacts with the United States and Japan.

Australia and India launched negotiations for a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement back in 2011, and in 2020 Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart decided to speed up the negotiations for a trade deal while agreeing to resolve some bilateral issues.

Regarding fears among domestic industry and farmers about a bilateral trade pact with Australia, Goyal said both sides have been fair and understood the "sensitivities of each other," and the deal would be a "win-win".

Australia wants a phased reduction in tariffs for its wines, while India is seeking greater market access for its textiles, footwear, leather, and pharmaceuticals and easier entry for its professionals, industry officials said.

"We understand India's sensitivity towards dairy" and some other sectors, Tehan said.

Two-way trade in goods and services has grown in value from $13.6 billion in 2007 to $24.3 billion in 2020, according to government estimates.

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Additional reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Mark Heinrich

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