The Economic Times, February 07, 2024

The momentum in India-Australia economic and strategic relationship was celebrated through a series of public events recently organised by leading public policy body CUTS International. One of the critical issues discussed at these events was the bilateral economic and strategic relations between the two countries, in particular the proposed Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA).

“We need to strengthen collaboration and invite sectoral insights to inform the negotiators going forward”, said Dipen Rughani, head of Newland Group. One of the three organisers of an event at the Consulate General of India in Sydney on February 2.

Echoing Rughani, Dr S. Janakiraman, Consul General of India in Sydney, in his opening remarks, said, “Suggestions and recommendations are invited to capitalise on existing opportunities and ways to navigate operational challenges”.

Since the signing of the Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA) in December 2022, agricultural exports to India grew by 50% with notable increase in sheep meat, seafood, broad beans, citrus and almonds. Industrial exports to India apparently rose by 30%, especially in pharma, wood, paper and cochlear implants.

“While Australian exports to India have gone up, Indian exports still need to do a strong catchup”, noted Dr Janakiraman. “We hope that the proposed CECA will enable India to increase its trade with Australia, for which all of us need to make active efforts”.

“Many exporters have shared that the key challenges they have encountered with India are cultural, including challenging industry or market structures”, said Natasha Jha Bhaskar of the Newland Group as the moderator of the event. “Unfortunately, these are issues that cannot be resolved in a trade agreement”.

The meeting noted that to improve the utilisation of the current ECTA, the coverage needs to be expanded to many more products, such as wheat, dairy and sugar, elements of pharma and medical equipment, as well as beverages including soft drinks.

A question was asked if increased imports from India can help address the challenge of Australia’s rising cost of living. There was a consensus that indeed increased imports of goods at a lower cost from India or other developing countries will help Australian consumers reduce their economic burdens.

“Self reliant (atmanirbhar) India is not an inward looking India. Our Prime Minister has clearly stated that the Make in India policy is to make in India for the World”, said Pradeep S. Mehta, Secretary General, CUTS International.

“For this purpose, we also need to explore partnerships between Indian and Australian MSMEs which create more jobs and more value’,” asserted Mehta. “In particular we need to explore greater partnerships in the defence equipment sector, which will help to grow the relationship more deeply”.

India has scale, which Australia lacks. It has developed a highly sophisticated IT and business outsourcing sector, which are deeply embedded in the Australian economy.

In terms of human capital, India is ranked second in the world for producing top class doctors, engineers and scientists. India is making huge investments in infrastructure, while Australia offers the world’s third largest pension funds pool, and expertise in finance, agriculture, education and health services. Australia can supply India’s rapidly growing demand for energy and natural resources.

The meeting further noted that Australia’s perceptions of India and Indian perceptions of Australia urgently need to be updated, so as not to suffer from biases arising out of legacy issues. The proposed CECA falls within the strategic necessity of both countries.

India has the world’s second largest military and sophisticated anti-satellite weaponry. This is accompanied by a successful and active space programme, which boasts of a successful landing on the dark side of the moon.

“It is urgent to understand the diversity of Indian diaspora and explore their role as knowledge partners and create a brain chain”, said Tim Thomas, CEO of Centre for Australia India Relations. “Diaspora is not a monolith”.

A similar sentiment was expressed by Australia’s Ambassador Philip Green at an event in Jaipur on February 4, who said that he looks at the Australia India relations through three pillars: strategic alignment, economic complementarity and human bridge.

At another session in Melbourne, the Australia India Institute facilitated a Conversation on “Critical Minerals for Security and Prosperity: The Role of the Quad Should Play”.

The session was moderated by Lisa Singh, the Executive Director of AII and Dr Mohan Yellishetty of Monash University.

The meeting noted that there is an unprecedented interest in critical minerals and how these will help Australia and India to foster new commercial partnerships.

Another event was held at Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University on 30th January with Tim Yeend, Associate Secretary and Ravi Kevalram, First Assistant Secretary of Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Government of Australia. It was moderated by Shiro Armstrong of Crawford School with Mehta as a key note speaker.

The meeting recognised that the multilateral trade order is not in a very good shape and hence preferential trade agreements are the way forward.

Furthermore, both Australia and India are looking forward to crafting PTAs or friendshoring with like-minded countries.

CUTS plans to dive deeper in consolidating the Australia-India economic and strategic relationship over time and solicits cooperation from both governments and peoples of the two countries.

This news item can also be viewed at: