Australia and India launched talks Thursday on establishing a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) aimed at greater economic integration between the two countries.
Negotiations took place between Australian Trade Minister Craig Emerson and his Indian counterpart Anand Sharma with the focus on broadening the base of merchandise trade and removing barriers to services trade.
India is Australia's third-largest, and fastest growing, export market, with Aus$19.8 billion (US$21 billion) worth of goods and services sent in 2009-10.
Demand for Australian commodities such as gold, coal, and copper is driving trade although education is worth Aus$3 billion, a figure that is growing.
Emerson said a comprehensive FTA would work for both countries with a feasibility study last year showing that a deal would boost Australian gross domestic product by US$32 billion over 20 years.
It also said Indian growth would increase by US$34 billion in the same period.
"The extremely strong growth in recent years in trade and investment ties with India will continue, increasing both in pace and scope," he said in a statement.
He underlined the importance of achieving a high-quality, truly-liberalising trade deal that supported the multilateral trading system.
"The FTA negotiations form an important part of the wider economic objectives set by the Australia-India Strategic Partnership agreed in November 2009," said Emerson.
Emerson and Sharma will meet again at the OECD Ministerial Council in Paris later this month where they will continue their discussions.
Asia is Australia's key export market, with China its largest partner.