India and Australia are in discussions for a bilateral free trade agreement, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar says, after his country’s decision to walk out of a China-backed trade bloc.
“There is a discussion on a free trade agreement, a bilateral free trade agreement as well because, as you know, we didn’t sign the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership),” Jaishankar said in an interview with Australia-based Lowy Institute.
Fifteen Asia-Pacific economies signed the RCEP last month, forming the world’s largest free trade bloc that excludes the United States.
India pulled out of RCEP talks in November last year but ASEAN leaders said the door remained open for it to join.
RCEP groups the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
Jaishankar also said India and Australia would have “very strong defence ties,” adding he hoped for strong trade co-operation.
Last month, India, along with Australia, the United States and Japan conducted their largest joint naval exercises in over a decade, seen as part of efforts to balance China’s vast military and economic power in the region.