PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Australia last year seems to be bearing fruit. Australian trade minister Andrew Robb said that his governmentwas taking steps to finalise the civil nuclear deal and the free trade agreement by the end of 2015. However, he indicated that there were still some hurdles to be cleared. Australia had signed a civil nuclear agreement with India in September to supply uranium. Modi had struck a similar deal with uranium-rich Canada. The civil nuclear agreement wih the US is also on track though there are some glitches over nuclear liability. The importance of nuclear power to meet India’s energy needs has, however, lessened with the falling global price of crude and the awareness that nuclear energy is costly. Greater importance attaches to the comprehensive economic cooperation agreement between the two countries.
Andrew Robb emphasised that the focus of the agreement would be on services which account for 75% of Australia’s economy. That would include engineering, health, education, the environment, project management, construction, financial services and the like. The lacuna is that it does not put due stress on the farm sector which is the backbone of the Indian economy. Andrew Robb also talked of progress towards finalisation of a free trade agreement with India. Canberra wants increased access for auto components, financial services, pulses, wines, meat and dairy products. New Delhi for its part wants greater access for professionals, textiles, leather, auto parts, pharma, etc. It is inclined to relent on such items as auto components, high-end wine and meat but will not budge on movement of people and agriculture. Robb recognises that economic ties between India and his country have to respect the fact that about 25% of people in India live on less than $2 a day. Foreign deals are fine but the best means of growth in India come from within and that alone can combat the spectre of poverty.