Australian PM Scott Morrison India visit 2020: An opportunity for both the countries to make synergies work

Australia and India need to become dependable development partners, where Australia recognises and responds to New Delhi's priorities of creating a New India, gaining influence on the global stage, and raising living standards at home

A shift in the global economy, politics and governance has brought major disruption to the world. Hence, there is a growing demand from nations to address the changing power dynamics driven by restructured norms, rules, institutions and strategic collaborations. In other words, we are witnessing nations transitioning from rule-takers to rule-makers, addressing the complexities and understanding the stakes of changing global dynamics.

The impending visit of Australian PM Scott Morrison to India in January 2020 is driven by this hope and optimism to address the changing dynamics which are at play in reforming such structures, that asks for geopolitical and economic repositioning. Can Australia and India find the obvious synergies that exist between them and more importantly make them work?

Australian PM Scott Morrison is invited as the Chief Guest and will deliver the inaugural address at the Raisina Dialogue (dialogue on foreign policy and strategic affairs) in January 2020. The Raisina Dialogue is jointly organised by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Observer Research Foundation (ORF). PM Morrison will also be accompanied by a senior business delegation, which highlights the importance of building the economic quotient of this relationship.

Australia and India are situated in the Indo-Pacific where the centre of economic and strategic gravity is shifting. Both countries are wary of China's assault on maritime security and freedom of navigation in the region. These common concerns have strengthened the need for greater maritime cooperation between the two nations, and a stronger alignment on regional Indo-Pacific architecture.

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The region has featured heavily in recent Australian strategic discourse, especially since the release of the 2013 defence white paper, 2017 foreign policy white paper and the renewed Quad dialogue involving India, Japan, US and Australia for multilateral military and strategic cooperation.

During this visit, Australia and India are expected to sign logistics services agreement to simplify interoperability and enable military platforms to receive support and supplies across bases in both nations, reiterating the need to facilitate stronger strategic ties driven by congruence and issue-based alignment.

Australia's release of the India Economic Strategy 2035 report last year, authored by Peter Varghese AO, Former Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia and Former High Commissioner of Australia to India signifies the urgency and importance with which Australia is looking at India.

The strategy has set a target for India to become one of Australia's top three export markets, to make India the third-largest destination in Asia for Australian outward investment, and to bring India into the inner circle of Australia's strategic partnerships.

The strategy is divided into 10 sectors and 10 states where Australian business should be focusing. India will be releasing the reciprocal Australia Economic Strategy in mid-December this year, authored by Ambassador Anil Wadhwa and Former Secretary (East), Government of India.

The report is expected to cover opportunities across emerging areas like mining, resources, education, medical and water technologies, space technology and manufacturing which have major relevance in the future aspirational plans of Indian companies and investments.

India lags behind other mining countries across all stages of mining-geoscience, exploration, development, production and reclamation. Australian METS sector has a number of comparative advantages, which if utilised properly can offer a range of solutions to the mining industry in India.

Vocational education and training are often perceived in India as less prestigious than tertiary education. The provision of international qualifications increases prestige. The Ministry of Human Resource Development has released an ambitious five-year vision plan which has been termed as Education Quality Upgradation and Inclusion Programme (EQUIP) to transform higher education in India.

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Australian higher education has an opportunity to explore. Australia's superannuation funds are valued at 2.6 trillion Australian dollars (USD 1.93 trillion) as of December 2017.

They are among the world's largest with respect to volume. Australia's pension fund or superfunds does not have much exposure to Indian markets as they have with other international markets. Australian superannuation funds can look at investing in Indian infrastructure projects such as industrial corridors, ports, smart cities, airports and railway projects.

Innovation, sharing of technology and creating an enabling ecosystem can be a defining and distinguishing component of this relationship where both countries can engage in building capacities in the agri-tech, health-tech, Mining Equipment and Technology Services (METS), Financial Services, Vocational education and other niche industries where Australia has a competitive advantage and India has a major requirement.

With India's pullout from the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (RCEP), there is an opportunity for Australia to negotiate a bilateral comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CECA) that is mutually beneficial, addresses each others concerns and provides market access.

Both governments began negotiating CECA in 2011 and the talks have progressed in spurts, held up primarily on account of two sticking points: India's demand for free movement of professionals versus Australia's demand for enhanced agriculture market access in India.

An equal balance between goods, services and investment within the Free trade (FTA) ambit can provide a new push to this relationship. CECA can bring in more space for India to negotiate with Australia. According to the Joint Study Group (JSG) report, the welfare gain from the FTA could be in the range of 0.15 and 1.14 per cent of GDP for India and 0.23 and 1.17 per cent for Australia.

Australia as a natural partner in every area of India's priority: energy and resources, agribusiness, education and skills, infrastructure, finance and health. Just as India has core strengths for Australia: IT, manufacturing, engineering, textiles, agriculture and finance.

Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) can provide businesses with the right environment to flourish and create inspiring stories of engagement. Having said that, Australia will have to be conscious of India's sensitivities in the farm sector, which employs over 60% of the country's population, and flooding products by way of lower tariffs and duty-free access can affect the livelihood of a large section of people. Hence curating a deal that addresses the needs and requirements of countries, which are at different levels of development, will be of prime importance.

India is heavily dependent on domestic consumption. Australia can consider partnering with India in building its export-led growth strategy and enhancing its global supply chain. Australia's support in building India's domestic production and India's need to create globally competitive goods is a symbiotic dimension that can be explored between both nations, supplemented by Australia's strength in critical technologies.

Manufacturing in India, in a cost-competitive environment, could be the key for Australian companies to expand their footprints to other parts of the world. 'Designed in Australia - Made in India' can be the new focus area for this partnership.

The economic content of the relationship is expected to receive further boost, with the innovative Australia-India Business Exchange (AIB-X) that will be in February 2020, will be led by Trade Minister Simon Birmingham that will focus on small and medium enterprises across priority sectors education, tourism, energy and resources, and food and agribusiness. The visit of PM Morrison is an opportunity to reflect positions and perceptions, which could facilitate stronger strategic, economic and people-to-people ties between Australia and India.

Australia could also initiate an annual leaders' meeting between the two Prime Ministers. PM Morrison's engagement with Modi's personal diplomacy in this visit can also open new avenues for cooperation and collaboration.

PM Morrison's visit to India is an opportunity for varied stakeholders, diplomats and policymakers to look at the Australia India relationship with renewed interest, importance and focus. The Australian government can convey its coherent India strategy driven by its long term vision for this relationship, its potential for creative diplomacy, strategic engagement, economic cooperation which is led by mutual obligation, timelines and tangibles, and tackles the execution deficit of this relationship.

Australia and India need to become dependable development partners, where Australia recognises and responds to New Delhi's priorities of creating a New India, gaining influence on the global stage, and raising living standards at home. Australia's engagement with India should become a permanent national project - a project that transcends the detail of foreign policy.

The word "engagement'' is crucial, where Australia plays the role of an enabler rather than merely pursuing a transactional, buyer-seller relationship. The focus should be on becoming a more India-literate and India-capable nation. Collaboration, consistency, commitment driven by patience and resolve are the key. Australia needs to look at itself both as a beneficiary and participant of the Asian century; the choice it has to make is whether it wants to drift into its future or to actively shape it.

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