Up’n’about with down under – Economic Times (blog)

Peter Varghese

On July 12, I submitted to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull a report he had commissioned on an economic strategy for Australia and India out to 2035. The report is the most detailed analysis so far of the complementarities of the two economies over the next two decades. It charts a course to a deeper economic partnership between Australia and India and bring India into the first tier of Australia’s economic partners.

The report sets out a strategy built on three pillars: economic partnership, strategic congruence, and people-to-people ties. These three pillars offer a future of converging interests.

Our thinkingon the merits of an open economy is aligning. We are building common ground on the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific. And our communities are getting to know each other better, not least through the rapid increase in the 700,000-strong Indian diaspora in Australia.

The report makes the case for a strategic investment in the relationship led at the highest levels of the Australian government. The core of the economic strategy is ‘sectors and states’.

As the Indian economy grows further —and the report assumes 6-8% yearon-year growth for the next 20 years — the scope for partnership will only expand. The report is built around India’s needs and priorities, identifying 10 sectors where Indian demand and Australian supply can come into better balance.

These are identified as a flagship sector (education), three lead sectors (agribusiness, resources and tourism) and six promising sectors (energy, healthcare, financial services, infrastructure, sport, science and innovation).

Education is much more than increasing the number of Indian students coming to Australia. It signals engagement, collaboration, a responsiveness to India’s priorities and a bridge between the two communities. Australia’s education relationship with India needs to focus on quality, on postgraduate and research collaboration, on science and innovation, on forging partnerships to deliver cost-effective vocational education in India, and partnering in the digital delivery of education.

The focus on states reflects the reality that India is best seen as an aggregation of different state economies, each growing at different rates, driven by different strengths, led in different ways, and likely to continue to progress unevenly. The report places a high priority on boosting Australian investment in India.

In virtually all of Australia’s relationships in Asia, investment lags trade by a wide margin. India is likely to be different, with its relatively open foreign investment regime, rule of law and institutions derived from British models. English being widely spoken is a very significant asset.

India is currently Australia’s largest source of skilled migrants, its second largest source of international students, and the source of a substantial proportion of those who come under temporary visas to fill skilled positions that Australians cannot.

This diaspora will have a big role to play in the partnership of the future. They can enter into relationships where governments cannot.

The truth is, at a community level, neither country knows much about the other. Images of Australia in India tend to be sketchy, shaped by cricket, historical connections and sporadic coverage in the Indian media. Similarly, in Australia, there is very little understanding of contemporary India in the wider community.

The strategy is chiefly one about Australia in India. For the partnership to be complete, however, there also needs to be a strategy for India in Australia. That is something the Indian government will hopefully consider.

The logic of a sustained investment by Australia in the relationship with India is compelling. If we get it right, we will enhance the prosperity and security of Australians, and of Indians who sense their time has come and a better life is within their grasp.

(The writer was Australia’s foreign secretary)

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.

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