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Editorial Articles


Issue no 52, 25 - 31 March 2023

Growing India-Australia Partnership

Sujeet Yadav

In November 2014, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi visited Australia, marking the first such visit by an Indian Prime Minister in nearly thirty years. During his visit, the Indian PM declared that Australia was no longer on the periphery of India's vision but at the center of its thoughts, and pledged to deepen the bilateral security partnership, work together at the G20 and regional multilateral fora, and conclude a free trade deal. Since then, India and Australia have worked towards building a robust strategic partnership over the years through frequent trips by Australian Prime Ministers to India and various ministerial delegations and strategic dialogues between bureaucrats, military officers, and analysts. This has led to fortification of partnership between the two countries, particularly in the areas of defence and security, and increased flows of students and skilled migrants. Further strengthening the flourishing partnership, India and Australia signed the Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA) in 2022. Under this agreement, bilateral trade that was $27.5 billion in 2021 has the potential to nearly double to $50 billion by 2027. A much larger Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement has been in negotiations in the last few years and the recently held India-Australia Annual Summit witnessed developments that signal opportunities to hasten the ambitious deal.

India-Australia Annual Summit 2023: Takeaways: The Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. Anthony Albanese, visited India from 8th March to 11th March 2023, at the invitation of India's Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi. Mr. Albanese was joined by other important Australian officials and business representatives, and visited Ahmedabad, Mumbai, and New Delhi. On 18th March 2023, Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi and visiting Australian Prime Minister Mr Anthony Albanese met for the much anticipated Annual Summit. The two leaders took stock of progress made on various initiatives under the India-Australia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. The summit laid the way forward on new initiatives and enhanced cooperation on a diverse range of sectors. The two leaders reiterated their commitment to work closely on issues of global interests and shared priorities to realise inclusive, ambitious, decisive and action-oriented outcomes, in areas such as achieving the Sustainable Development Goals; technological transformation; inclusive and resilient growth; green development, climate finance and LiFE (Lifestyle for the Environment); reinvigorated multilateralism; reforms and international cooperation; mainstreaming gender equality and advancing women's empowerment and inclusive leadership

Strengthening Trade and Investments for Comprehensive Economic Cooperation: The joint statement issued after the summit meet between two Prime Ministers clearly spelt out a roadmap for enhancing bilateral trade and investments in order to further strengthen the economic co-operation that turned a new leaf with the signing of the India-Australia Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA) on 29 December 2022.The ECTA has resolved the long-standing issue of taxation of offshore income of Indian firms under the IndiaAustralia Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) besides expanding the scope of bilateral trade. The two sides have now started negotiations to build on the ECTA's foundation and expand into new areas of trade, investment, and cooperation, paving way for an early conclusion of an ambitious Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) that would realise the full potential of the bilateral economic relationship. This will create new employment opportunities, raise living standards, and improve the general welfare of the peoples of both countries. The India-Australia CEO Forum has been convened to encourage businesses on both sides to cultivate links, explore emerging economic and investment opportunities, and leverage the significant complementarities of the two economies. The comparative strength of Australia in raw materials, critical minerals, and innovative research coupled with India's scale, market size, and low-cost manufacturing space can lead to fruitful and mutually beneficial outcomes through partnerships between Indian and Australian companies. Furthermore, in order to ensure diversified, transparent, open, secure, inclusive, and predictable global supply chains, India and Australia have agreed to devise new strategies to strengthen regional cooperation through the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI) by collaborating with Japan. Maintaining secure, resilient, and sustainable critical minerals supply chains is essential to clean energy, electric vehicles, semiconductors, aerospace, and defence. In the face of challenging headwinds in the global economy, including geopolitical conflict, elevated energy prices, the ongoing impacts of the pandemic, inflation pressures, and fragmented supply chains, strengthening of ties between India and Australia will catalyse global economic growth, diversification of supply chains, and strengthening the rulesbased multilateral trading system with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) at its core. This is particularly critical as the two countries have emphasised the importance of implementing all 12th WTO Ministerial Conference (MC12) outcomes, particularly on reform, to have a fully and well-functioning dispute settlement system by 2024. India and Australia also look to forge greater cooperation and engagement in agriculture, particularly in areas such as innovation, climate-smart agriculture, and open trade, all of which support global food security. A significant step in this direction has already been take with the finalisation of market access for Australian Hass avocadoes to India and Indian okra to Australia.

Defence and Security Partnership for an Open and Inclusive Indo-Pacific: The defence and security partnership between India and Australia has witnessed significant progress under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, with both countries committed to addressing shared challenges and ensuring regional security in the IndoPacific. The partnership has been enhanced through regular high-level dialogues, increased interoperability between the respective forces, and consolidation of mutual access to deepen operational defence cooperation. One notable development is the convening of the 2+2 Defence and Foreign Ministerial Dialogue and the meeting of Defence Ministers, which highlights the growing complexity and frequency of defence exercises and exchanges between the two countries. The arrangement for enhancing Maritime Domain Awareness in the Indian Ocean region and increasing defence information sharing further consolidates the cooperation. The commencement of the inaugural “General Rawat IndiaAustralia Young Officer Defence Exchange” Programme signifies the commitment of both countries to building partnerships and deepening cooperation in the defence industry, research and material cooperation. The visit of an Australian delegation to Indian defence corridors in 2022 underscores the need for boosting connections between Indian and Australian defence industrial bases. In recognition of India and Australia's robust maritime partnership, Australia will host Exercise MALABAR in 2023 for the first time, which will bolster interoperability between participating navies. Both countries are exploring the conduct of aircraft deployments to enhance maritime domain awareness and build operational familiarity.

The partnership between India and Australia also highlights their commitment to combat terrorism comprehensively and sustainably. They emphasised the need for strengthened international cooperation to root out terrorist safe havens and infrastructure, disrupt terrorist networks and their financing channels and halt the use of terrorist proxies and cross-border movement of terrorists. Furthermore, the IndiaAustralia Framework Arrangement on Cyber and Cyberenabled Critical Technology Cooperation and Plan of Action signed by Foreign Ministers on 4 June 2020 signifies the progress achieved in deepening bilateral cyber cooperation. The defence and security partnership between India and Australia is poised to play a critical role in shaping the security architecture of the IndoPacific in the years ahead. The developments in this partnership signify the commitment of both countries to addressing shared challenges and ensuring regional security in an open, inclusive, stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific.

Partnership for Climate Action and Renewable Energy: The partnership between India and Australia has grown significantly over the years on diverse fields such as climate change, renewable energy, space, and disaster resilience. The joint statement issued after the Annual Summit highlights the urgent need to address climate change and implement the Paris Agreement, while also ensuring energy security, job creation, and poverty reduction. The statement also emphasises the importance of inclusive and gender-responsive efforts to address climate change, mindful consumption, and reducing waste. The India-Australia partnership on renewable energy has seen significant progress with the establishment of the Australia-India Solar Taskforce and the proposal to establish an India-Australia Hydrogen Task Force. Efforts are underway for two-way investment in grid infrastructure and the entire spectrum of renewable energy technologies, including largescale generation, storage, green hydrogen, and critical minerals/ battery supply chain investment and research and development. The partnership is expected to be elevated to a Renewable Energy Partnership, which would further reduce renewable energy costs and support the energy transition for both countries. Science, technology, innovation, and research are also key areas of collaboration between India and Australia. The India-Australia Innovation and Technology Challenge, the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund, and the AustraliaIndia Circular Economy Hackathon are just a few examples of the initiatives that have been launched to foster innovation and collaboration between the two countries. The partnership also extends to the field of space, with a focus on scientific research, space applications, and the production and launch of satellites. The Coalition for Disaster Resilient Infrastructure (CDRI) is another important forum where India and Australia are working together to enhance the resilience of Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Both countries have pledged $10 million to support SIDS under the Infrastructure Resilience Accelerator Fund (IRAF) launched at COP-27. The partnership also includes exploring further collaboration in research and investments in renewable energy technologies. Sustainable water management is another focus area for collaboration, given the common challenges faced by both countries on account of limited freshwater availability and competing sectoral demands. The Joint Working Group for Water Resources Management has undertaken initiatives through technical exchanges and execution of demonstrative projects leading to institutional capacity building for meeting the challenges of the water sector.

Regional and Multilateral Cooperation: The Indian-Australian partnership is focused on promoting a stable and prosperous IndoPacific region, where international law and territorial integrity are respected. The Indian Ocean is central to both India and Australia's security and prosperity as both the countries depend on free and open access to sea lanes in the Indo-Pacific for trade and economic well-being. Hence, India and Australia are both committed to exercising rights and freedoms in all seas and oceans in line with UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea) especially in the South China Sea. They believe disputes should be resolved peacefully and through selfrestraint, and any Code of Conduct in the South China Sea should be fully consistent with international law. The Quad is seen as a critical platform to advance shared interests in the Indo-Pacific, including in areas such as health security, climate change, sustainable infrastructure, cybersecurity, maritime security, and education. The Indian-Australian partnership also aims to strengthen regional economic cooperation and integration, including in supply chains and clean energy transition, through the IndoPacific Economic Forum (IPEF). They support multilateral mechanisms such as the ASEAN-led regional architecture, the IndoPacific Oceans Initiative (IPOI), Coalition for Disaster Resilience Infrastructure (CDRI), and Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). Both countries are committed to Pacific island countries' development and reaffirm the centrality of the Pacific Islands Forum in addressing regional challenges. Both countries are committed to an open, stable, prosperous, and sovereign Indian Ocean region, and they cooperate within trilateral groupings, such as Australia-India-France and Australia-India-Indonesia, to strengthen the region. They condemn North Korea's ballistic missile launches and urge its compliance with relevant UNSC resolutions, reaffirming their commitment to complete denuclearisation. They support bilateral nuclear cooperation while committing to upholding non-proliferation standards.

Soft Diplomacy: The joint statement issued at the end of the India-Australia Annual Summit demonstrates a shared commitment to economic, cultural, and educational cooperation, as well as to the safety and security of citizens in both nations. Australia has a significant Indian diaspora of 976,000 people, which plays a crucial role in promoting people-to-people ties between the two countries. The Australian Government's commitment to facilitating efficient and timely processing of student visa applications for Indian nationals is a positive step towards strengthening this people-to-people connect. The ongoing negotiations on the Migration and Mobility Partnership Arrangement (MMPA) are significant for strengthening people-to-people ties and reinforcing economic linkages. The MMPA will promote and support the mobility of students, graduates, academic researchers, business people, and other professionals. The agreement will also enhance cooperation on issues pertaining to irregular migration. The Prime Ministers have tasked concerned officials on both sides to expedite the conclusion of an ambitious and balanced MMPA within the next three months. The signing of the Mechanism for Mutual Recognition of Qualifications and the AustraliaIndia Future Skills Initiative are significant steps towards strengthening education ties and supporting Australian education and skill training in India. The progress made by Australian universities towards establishing a presence in India is also a positive development that will foster India and Australia's educational links. Furthermore, the IndiaAustralia Audiovisual CoProduction Agreement will support skilled jobs, creative exchange, and the development of screen projects of cultural significance in both countries. The TV commitment of both countries towards promoting cooperation across democratic institutions is also a positive development.

Conclusion: Over the past half-decade, India-Australia bilateral relations have experienced significant growth due to strong political will from both nations and a mutual interest in preserving a free, open, inclusive, and rules-based Indo-Pacific region. The shared understanding of the need for a free and open Indo-Pacific is at the heart of both countries' foreign policies, and they have recognised the potential benefits of working together to maintain regional stability. This shift in perspective can also be attributed to how both nations perceive and react to the growing challenge posed by China. As a response, India and Australia have sought to diversify their economic partnerships, as well as their defence, clean energy, and critical supply chains, among other things, which has bolstered their bilateral ties. Australia's relationship with India has played a vital role in shaping India's own ambitions and policies in the Indo-Pacific. Both countries are key members of the Quad, a regional group that includes Japan and the US. Initially, the concept of a free and open Indo-Pacific and the Quad was primarily promoted by Japan, but Australia and India's inclusion and active participation, along with the US, have transformed it into a potential cooperative framework in the Indo-Pacific. Australia's foreign policy outlook has undergone a significant shift, as evidenced by its hosting of the Quad Leaders' Summit and the Malabar exercises this year, which were previously not the case. Similarly, India's position has evolved from being a hesitant member of the Quad group to an active participant. India has been able to put forth its own national interests vociferously while collaborating with its Quad partner countries to make the grouping a meaningful one. Australia has accepted India's central position in the IndoPacific, and it recognises that India can maintain a neutral stance on global issues, such as the Ukraine Crisis, despite being a part of the Quad.

(The author is a Delhi based journalist covering international affairs. He can be reached @ sujeetjourno@gmail.com)

Views expressed are personal.