Doubts over Australia’s import rules delay study

Doubts over Australia’s import rules delay study

New Delhi: The Indian agriculture ministry’s objections to Australia’s stringent farm import standards have delayed a study aimed at exploring a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) between the two countries.

“The joint study group report is yet to be tabled. Further consultation is going on with concerned ministries on certain chapters," a commerce ministry official said on condition of anonymity.

“The agriculture ministry has expressed certain reservations regarding the strict (sanitary and phytosanitary, or SPS) standards and conformity issues. There is concern over the competition policy in Australia also," said the official.

SPS measures refer to rules and standards that governments employ to protect humans, animals and plants from diseases, pests and contaminants.

The joint feasibility study was aimed at examining the potential impact of an FTA on India and Australia. The study group has met three times in New Delhi (April and August 2008, and September 2009) and once in Melbourne (May 2008). It was initially scheduled to complete its work by December 2008, and the deadline was later extended by a year.

The study is supposed to cover a comprehensive range of subjects, including all goods and services trade, investment, intellectual property, competition policy, government procurement, SPS measures, technical barriers to trade, mutual recognition agreements and labour mobility associated with trade in services.

The commerce ministry will internally assess the report after it is filed, before submitting it to the trade and economic relations committee headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Formal talks with Australia will begin after that.