Sydney: The Australian government has backed a plan to negotiate a free trade agreement (FTA) with India, a move which would radically reshape relations with the South Asian power, a report said on Monday.
The Conservative government of Prime Minister John Howard wants to enhance ties with New Delhi, which is becoming increasingly important to Australia economically and strategically, The Australian newspaper said.
A submission prepared by foreign minister Alexander Downer, and supported by cabinet, has outlined the new approach which would mirror Canberra’s opening towards China in the 1980s and an earlier embrace of Japan, the paper said.
Discussion of the free trade agreement comes one week after Canberra agreed to sell uranium to India for energy use, despite New Delhi not being a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The newspaper did not quote from the submission but said it recognizes India’s growing importance to Australia, improving trade ties between the countries and New Delhi’s increased engagement with East Asia. It also reportedly supports India’s bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, increased security cooperation and the funding of an Indian-studies centre at an Australian university.
The submission was “designed to elevate the India relationship to a core element in Australia’s international orientation, along with the US, Japan, China and Indonesia,” the newspaper said.
In a separate comment piece, The Australian said India was a new frontier for Australia in Asia but the nations had much in common.
“Unlike Japan, India is not a former enemy. Unlike China, India is a parliamentary democracy. Then, there’s cricket,” the paper said.
“But the Indian express is leaving the station. The only good place for us is on board.”
Australia already has an FTA with the US and is pursuing similar agreements with China and Japan.