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Trade

Australia and India sign trade deal in virtual ceremony

Scott Morrison 'opens one of biggest economic doors in world' ahead of elections

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart, Scott Morrison, take a step toward building closer trade links.   © Reuters

(Reuters) -- Australia formally signed a trade deal with India on Saturday as the nations signaled an intention to forge closer trade ties.

The Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement was signed in a virtual ceremony by Australian Trade Minister Dan Tehan and India's Minister of Commerce & Industry, Piyush Goyal.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi witnessed the virtual ceremony.

Morrison, who is expected to call a general election within days, has been eager to secure the trade deal before campaigning begins, having been in negotiations with India for a decade.

Speaking to reporters in Tasmania, Morrison said the agreement with the world's second most populous nation represented "one of the biggest economic doors there is to open in the world today."

"These are never all or nothing deals as far as we're concerned, we see all of these as the next step and the next step and the next step," he said, expressing both countries' intention to build closer trade links.

Morrison's government is seeking to diversify export markets and reduce Australia's dependence on its biggest trading partner China, after diplomatic spats led to Beijing sanctioning certain Australian products.

The deal with India removes tariffs on more than 85% of Australian goods exports to India, worth A$12.6 billion, rising to almost 91% over 10 years.

Tariffs will be scrapped on sheep meat, wool, copper, coal, alumina, fresh Australian rock lobster, and some critical minerals and nonferrous metals to India.

It will see 96% of Indian goods imports enter Australia duty-free.

Both countries would continue to work toward a full free trade agreement, the federal government said on Friday.

After signing the deal, Minister of Commerce & Industry Goyal said India wanted to progress a full free trade agreement with Australia in an "accelerated manner".

"Soon after this current agreement comes into force, we'll get down to cracking the whip on the next stage to make this a comprehensive economic partnership," he said.

Trade Minister Tehan said he was confident negotiations would advance even if the Morrison government was replaced at the upcoming national election.

Scott Morrison lags in the polls leading up to the general election due in May.

"I have very strong hope," he said, "no matter who fills our chairs going forward, we'll be able to ... build on this groundbreaking agreement."

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