AUSTRALIA and India have discussed ways of strengthening trade ties, with the agriculture sector hoping the nation is a step closer to better access to one of the world's largest and fastest growing markets.
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud with his Indian counterpart Narendra Singh Tomar virtually to discuss the agricultural trading relationship such as the India-Australia Grains Partnership, along with improving market access and fostering closer cooperation.
Mr Littleproud said the meeting, held despite the ongoing COVID emergency unfolding in India, was "a true testament to the strength of our bilateral relationship".
"The key to this relationship is building on and increasing agricultural trade between our two great countries - even small gains can mean large value for Australian exporters," Mr Littleproud said.
"Last year, we committed to the India-Australia Grains Partnership, and through this we aim to support closer grains industry relationships and share our expertise.
"But this doesn't just stop at market access. Australians are experts in grains storage, handling and supply chains, and we wish to share this knowledge with the world to help improve food security."
Mr Littleproud said he was working with India to resolve trade barriers and seek approval of improved market access conditions such as in-transit phosphine fumigation for export commodities, which will provide more treatment options for Australian exporters.
At the moment, Australia's two-way agricultural trade with India is valued at over $1 billion, with lentils, greasy wool, almonds, raw cotton and oats among the key exports to India.
Forging agricultural trade partnerships with India has been historically difficult due to the way its agriculture industry is set up.
More than 86 per cent of India's cultivated farmland is owned by smaller farmers who own less than two hectares each, with the government providing many farmers a minimum support price for certain crops such as wheat and rice.
Recent law changes by the Indian government designed to make it easier for farmers to bypass government-regulated markets and sell their produce directly to private buyers.
While the changes have been met with months of large protests across the country, as Indian farmers fear being pushed out by large corporations, the new laws could be an opportunity for Australia.
GrainGrowers chief executive David McKeon said along with the high-level dialogue and rhetoric, it was important for the government to directly focus on trade barriers holding Australian commodities out of India.
"There are long-term tariffs on chickpeas and lentils, and barriers on malt barley due to weed seed thresholds," Mr McKeon said.
"Recently we've seen the easing of tariff restrictions on some pulses such as mung beans. It's a small trade market in Australia but it does signal things are heading in the right direction.
"We are watching carefully to see whether the same decisions are made in the coming months around lentils and chickpeas
"The window for winter plantings is almost closed for Australian farmers, but anyone with lentils in the ground, easing the Indian restrictions would be a massive boost this year."