(SANSAD TV: Perspective)
March 26: India-Australia Ties – https://youtu.be/8KeuW6-p7Pc
- GS-2: India and its neighbourhood
Context: Earlier this week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison held a virtual summit – the second one since June 2020 when the relationship between both countries was elevated to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.
- Welcomed the substantial progress in deepening political, economic, security, cyber, technology and defence cooperation
- Laid the roadmap on new initiatives to enhance cooperation in a diverse range of sectors.
- The Australian side announced investments of about Rs 1,500 crore to further boost economic relationship.
- The two strategic partners also decided to set up a young defence officer exchange programme to boost military cooperation, to be named after India’s first Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat, who passed away in a tragic helicopter crash last year.
- Agreed that to unlock the untapped potential in bilateral trade and investment, there is need to conclude the proposed Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) at the earliest.
- Unveiled no fewer than 11 agreements on things like exchanging military officers, harmonising tax on pension funds and facilitating greater mobility for skilled workers, among others.
- A shared wariness over China: Australia and India have had much success in defence and security cooperation and diplomatic coordination in recent years. They have obvious overlapping interests here, principally the management of China’s assertiveness across the Indo-Pacific region.
Few points of disagreement
- CECA: Free-trading Australia and protectionist India have struggled to agree on the deal, not least because Canberra wants market access for agricultural produce and New Delhi wants to protect farmers who might not be able to compete with Australian imports. This is a hard issue to fix, because all Indian governments depend on the votes of farmers and their families, who comprise more than half the population.
- Differences over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine:
- India is Russia’s biggest arms importer and has not publicly rebuked Moscow or voted against it in the UN Security Council over its invasion.
- On this issue, India is in a bind – it needs Russian arms to defend itself from China. Extricating New Delhi from this predicament will take time, investment and a reorientation of Indian strategy, but also careful diplomacy by its partners, including Australia.
- For that reason, Morrison, like his American and Japanese counterparts, refrained from publicly hectoring Modi about India’s lack of direct criticism of the war.
Bilateral economic and trade relationship between India and Australia
- 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 level in Australia.
- India’s exports to Australia stood approximately at US$ 4.6 billion (A$6.1 bn) in 2016 while India’s import from Australia during the same period stood at US$ 11 billion (A$14.6 bn).
- India’s main exports to Australia are Passenger Motor Vehicle & machinery, Pearls, Gems and Jewellery, Medicaments and Refined Petroleum while India’s major imports are Coal, Non-monetary Gold, Copper, Wool, Fertilizers and Education related services.
Lots of work, of course, remains to be done. It is unclear whether the free-trade deal will be concluded, as promised, by the end of 2022.
- The full scope of bilateral defence cooperation in the Indian Ocean, which could involve Australian access to bases on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, has yet to be determined.
- Both countries also need to invest in improving public knowledge of the other. Too few Australian leaders have been to India, and too few Indian leaders have travelled in the opposite direction. There are also not enough scholars and analysts focusing on each other in Australian and Indian think tanks and universities.
Both countries understand each other far better now than they did just a decade ago, allowing them to better manage differences over issues like Ukraine. But more could and should be done to keep the relationship on the upward trajectory.
Can you answer the following question?
- How have India-Australia relations evolved over the years? Discuss.
- Collaboration between India and Australia can limit the dangers of the growing geopolitical imbalance in the Indo-Pacific. Comment.