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Speeding up key trade pact, sporting links on Modi agenda in Australia

Speeding up key trade pact, sporting links on Modi agenda in Australia

New Delhi: Speeding up negotiations on a major economic cooperation pact to give a fillip to bilateral trade and cooperation agreements in the field of sports are on the anvil during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's bilateral talks in Australia Nov 16-18. Modi is seeking to make up for lost time as the first Indian prime minister to visit Australia after over a quarter of a century.

Modi, who embarks on a 10-day three-nation tour Tuesday, arrives in Australia Nov 14 evening from Myanmar, where he would attend the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-India and East Asia Summit Nov 12 and 13.

After the Nov 15-16 G20 summit in Brisbane, Modi will engage in bilateral talks with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who visited India in September during which the two sides inked a landmark deal for Australia to sell uranium to India.

During their talks in Canberra, both sides would seek to speed up talks on the bilateral Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), also known as the free trade agreement (FTA) to boost bilateral trade. Talks were first started for the CECA in 2011 and so far five rounds of negotiations have been held.

The CECA aims to further liberalise and broaden the base of merchandise trade, remove non-tariff barriers and encourage investments.

Both sides would seek to step up negotiations on the trade pact with an aim for greater convergence between their exports and imports. The two-way trade has grown from $5.1 billion in 2003 to $15.2 billion in 2013, with Indian exports amounting to just over $3 billion.

Ahead of Abbott's visit to India, the Australia India Business Council and the Australia India Institute released a white paper seeking early inking of the CECA to arrest dwindling trade. Between 2009 and 2013, trade between the two countries plummeted 26 percent.

Modi, who is to be hosted by Abbott at the Melbourne Cricket Grounds Nov 18, would be seeking to tap Australia's expertise in sports, including in capacity building and sports medicine.

Sports is a national obsession with Australia, which has won gold medals in almost every Olympics event, and has a gold medals tally of 142 so far. In India, it is known more as a cricketing power and most Australian cricket stars are household names in India.

Prime Minister Abbott is himself a cycling enthusiast and has tweeted photographs of him cycling along with Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte in Canberra last week.

Modi told Asian Games medallists during a meeting last month that all their needs would be taken care of leading up to the 2016 Rio Olympics. He promised to bring back the "golden days of Indian sports" and build more facilities in the country.

The last Indian prime minister to visit Australia was Rajiv Gandhi in 1986.

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