In an Interview with Envoy Excellency, H.E. Dr. A.M. Gondane, High Commissioner of India to Australia

How do you see the relationship between India and Australia in recent years?

The India-Australia bilateral relationship has, in recent years, developed along a positive track, into a strategic partnership.

The two nations are bound by pluralistic, Westminster-style democracies, Commonwealth traditions, expanding economic engagement and increasing high level interaction. Both countries are strong, vibrant, secular and multicultural democracies with free press, independent judicial system and English language which serve as a foundation for closer co-operation and multifaceted interaction. Australia is a fellow traveler in our commitment to Disarmament, Global peace, North-South Dialogue, Human rights, Environmental protection and combating International terrorism.

The recent visit of Indian President Shri Ram Nath Kovind to Australia, according to you what is the importance of this visit?

President of India, Shri Ram Nath Kovind, at the invitation of Governor General Sir Peter Cosgrove, paid a State Visit to Australia from November 21-24, 2018. He was accompanied by Shri Anant Kumar Hegde, Minister of State for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, two Members of Parliament Shri Kamakhya Prasad Tasa, Dr. Heena Vijaykumar Gavit and other officials. He visited Sydney and Melbourne. This was the first ever visit of the President of India to Australia. Five Memorandums of Understanding were signed in the field of disability sector, Invest India, scientific collaboration and innovation, agricultural research and education, Information technology.  On that occasion, Hon’ble President interacted with Hon’ble Governor-General, Hon’ble Prime Minister Scott Morrison and several business leaders of Australia.  He unveiled the statue of Mahatma Gandhi at Parramatta and delivered addresses at the University of Melbourne, AFR Economic event and AIBC Annual gala event.  The visit has added momentum to the positive trajectory of the relations.

Bilateral trade between the two countries has grown tremendously over the years. Kindly elaborate? 

The India-Australia economic relationship has grown significantly in recent years. India’s  growing  economic  profile  and  commercial  relevance  to  the  Australian  economy  is recognized,  both  at  the  federal and  state  levels in  Australia.  The 7th India-Australia Economic Policy Dialogue was held in Canberra during 16-18 July, 2017.  During 2018, the balance of trade was heavily in favour of Australia. Australia exported merchandise goods to India worth USD 9.767 billion, while importing goods worth USD 3.318 billion from India.  Indian merchandise exports to Australia was dominated by ‘Refined Petroleum’ which experienced a decrease of approx 23 percent as compared to the same period in 2017, followed by the  Railway Vehicles, Medicament, Pearls and Precious Stones and Made-Up articles of Textile materials comprising the top 5. The   other   highlights   of   bilateral merchandise goods trade have been the significant increase in export of ‘Railway Vehicles (approx.  213.6%)’,’Passenger Motor Vehicles (approx.175%)   and   Equipment   for distributing electricity (approx. 77%)from India to Australia and import of Crude petroleum and Iron Ores &Concentrates (approx 1517%)  from Australia between Jan-Oct 2018.  Trade in the coming years, in both goods and services, is likely to grow rapidly, given the synergies.

What kind of cultural exchanges are taking place between the two nations? What are the major tourism opportunities in Australia?

The Indian diaspora in Australia strengthens cultural ties between the two Nations. Institutional efforts by the Government in the form of various cultural exchanges also take place. Both societies are multicultural, share pluralistic values and their multifaceted engagement ranges from celebration of festivals, organisation of cultural events and food festivals.  Both nations share the passion for cricket.

Two MOUs between India and Australia on Cultural Exchanges and on cooperation in the field of Arts and Culture form the institutional basis of cultural ties. Several institutions from both sides have been listed to encourage arts and cultural events and exhibitions. Further, to promote Indian culture there is an Indian Cultural Centre at the Consulate General of India in Sydney. The High Commission has planned a two year long cultural calender as part of 150th Birth Anniversary celebration of Mahatma Gandhi. The series of events starting from 2nd of October 2018 to 2nd of October 2020 include rendering of Gandhi Ji’s Favourite Bhajan “Vaishnav Jan To Tene Kahiye Je” by an Australian artist, issuance of a Stamp on Gandhi, Online Quiz, a Cycling event on 3rd of June, Satya Vaarta, planting of Trees on World Environment Day, Digital projection of Gandhi Photos on an iconic building, school outreach etc. Besides, to celebrate 550th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev ji, Mission has planned a series of events, including celebration of Baisakhi and Guru Purab in Major Australian cities, organising quiz and essay competitions, mounting a roving exhibition on life and teaching of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, organising seminars on historical ingress of Sikh community in various towns in Australia etc.

Tourist flows between Australia and India continue to grow. India is Australia’s eighth largest market for inbound visitor arrivals with nearly 335,303 Indians visiting Australia as of 2018, 19.9% year on year with  A$1 .5 billion total spending. This is forecast to reach 488,000 by 2024-25. By 2020 Indian tourist visitors holds a potential worth of A$ 1.9 to A$ 2.3 billion to the economy (department of Home Affairs Tourism Research survey). Australians are also increasingly visiting India. The number of Australian tourists in India has increased by almost 10 per cent annually over the last three years. The Australia-India Memorandum of Understanding in the Field of Tourism encourages and facilitates cooperation between tourism stakeholders in both countries.

India-Australia is potential market for each other when it comes on trade and investment, what is the current position of trade and investment between both the countries?

India still remains Australia’s 5th largest trading partner with  yearly growth averaging at 11.4%. India contributes to 3.5% of Australia’s total merchandise trade at A$ 21,868 million as of 2017-18.  The investment relationship between the two countries is less developed than bilateral trade ties. India is the 23rd largest source of international investment in Australia with a total investment of A$  15,494 million with an FDI of A$ 880 million. Australia’s investment in India is at A$ 13,957 million with an FDI of A$ 1,827 million. Recently India and Australia signed five agreements to boost investments and enhance cooperation in key sectors.

What is the presence of Indian Diaspora in Australia? 

About 675,000 Australians were of Indian ancestry as per 2016 census, constituting about 2.8 per cent of the country’s population. Of this, about 455,000 were Indian born, while the rest were descendants of migrants from Kenya, South Africa, Fiji, UK and other countries. About 48% of the Indian born migrants are Australian citizens. Almost one third of the NRIs were students.

India born migrants in Australia are the second highest tax-paying diaspora, after the UK born migrants.

Large number of the Indian diaspora migrant community belongs to the states of Punjab, Kerala, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh & Telangana, in India. Victoria and NSW are the most favoured states for the Indian diaspora community to be settled in, with Sydney, Melbourne being cities with largest populations of Indian-born migrants. Together, Victoria and NSW have over 450,000 people of Indian ancestry.

India has emerged as the largest source of skilled migrants and the number of Indian students in the country has gone up to over 80,000.  Indian origin people in Australia have been excelling in different fields that they have chosen. Almost every university in Australia have Indian origin professors while Indian doctors are well respected in the wider Australian community for their professional competence. Contribution of Indian scientists is well recognised in Australia.

There are over 200 associations of Indian community in Australia. These associations organise events on Indian national days, Independence Day and Republic Day, and religious & traditional festivals. The High Commission of India supports these events. From time to time, Indian Mission and posts organise interactions with the community and brief them about developments in the Australia-India relations.

What are the major export opportunities both the nations share? 

Answer India is Australia’s fifth largest export market with Australian merchandise and services exports valued at approximately A$ 19.2 billion as of 2016-2017. Major Australian exports to India in 2015-16 included coal, education-related travel, vegetables and gold. Major exports from India were refined petroleum, personal travel excluding education services, business services, medicaments, and pearls and gems.

Australian business is well placed to realise opportunities as Indian economy modernises. This is both in areas of traditional strengths like resources, agriculture and education, as well as in innovation, skills and technology transfer. In 2014-15, 1,946 Australian businesses were exporting to India according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Demand for Australian energy commodities, including LNG, coal and uranium, and Australian expertise in mining equipment, technology and services (METS) is expected to increase. India’s high economic growth rate in the last two decades has led to increasing demand for minerals.  India is endowed with huge resources of several metallic and non-metallic minerals. India imports thermal coal, metallurgical coal, copper concentrate and manganese ore to meet the growing demand for minerals.

Due to the significant role that oil and gas, specifically LNG, is expected to play in India’s energy future, there is a possibility for the Indian Hydrocarbon sector to develop extensive capabilities in the entire hydrocarbon value chain.

Education is Australia’s second largest export to India. Over 60,000 Indians studied in Australia in 2016 an increase of 12.4 per cent from 2015 recognising the high quality and cost competitiveness of Australian education services. Governmental and institutional cooperation is helping forge new opportunities, through the Australia-India Ministerial Dialogue on Education Cooperation and the Australia India Education Council. The Indian Government’s Skills India Program offers further opportunities for Australia. A growing knowledge-based partnership between Australia and India offers opportunities in areas like science and innovation, health, water management and sport.

How India is stepping ahead to strengthen the bilateral relationship between India and Australia. What are the major changes these nations  had gone through in these 10 years?

India and Australia have built strategic trust over the years, slowly yet steadily. A reference point in this transition is in civil nuclear co-operation between the two countries. Australia signed uranium supply deal with India, the first of its kind with a country that is a non-signatory of nuclear non-proliferation treaty, in recognition of India’s “impeccable” non-proliferation record.

Australia’s 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper recognises India as “of first order importance to Australia” both in terms of bilateral partnership as well as its role in shaping the regional order. Meanwhile, the Australian Government’s commissioning of a landmark national economic strategy for India, by former secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Varghese AO – An India Economic Strategy to 2035 – shows Australia’s willingness to work with India as a priority economic partner.

Security ties between India and Australia are on an upward trajectory since the signing of a Framework for Security Cooperation in 2014. Several high level meetings and joint bilateral and multilateral exercises like Kakadu (August-September 2018), AUSINDEX 15 (July 2018) and the Black Carillon submarine rescue exercise (November 2018) have ended the year on a positive note. Combined efforts to enhance maritime surveillance, monitoring and patrolling in the region as well as joint training and co-operation in counter-terrorism and transnational crimes are being discussed.

What are the recent economic developments that had taken place between India and Australia?

India is an increasingly attractive export and investment destination for Australian businesses looking to expand their operations. India cemented its position as the fastest growing major economy in the world. Since 2015, it has achieved a GDP growth rate of over 7 per cent per year, raising hopes of 8 per cent annual GDP growth this fiscal year. The ‘India Economic Strategy to 2035: Navigating from Potential to Delivery’ was released by former Prime Minister Hon’ble Malcolm Turnbull in July 2018. The Australian Government is encouraging enhancing economic ties with India. On 22 November 2018, the Government formally endorsed the independent India Economic Strategy and its ambitious vision for bilateral trade and investment by 2035.

Australia and India have also launched negotiations for a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) in May 2011. There have been nine rounds of negotiations, the most recent of which was held in September 2015.  India is also in negotiations at the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), along with Australia for a mega Free Trade Area.

Leave a Comment