Why Australian Prime Minister Albanese’s visit to India is significant
The bilateral relationship between India and Australia has seen an upswing in recent years
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s visit to India from March 8-11 will give a further boost to the existing level of high momentum in the India-Australia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.
This is the first bilateral visit by the Australian PM to India since the Labour Party government was sworn-in in May 2022. The last visit by an Australian PM was by Malcolm Turnbull who was in India in 2017.
Prime Minister Albanese will be accompanied by Senator Don Farrell, Minister for Trade and Tourism, and Madeleine King MP, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, along with senior officials and a high-level business delegation.
First in-person India-Australia Annual Summit
The Australian Prime Minister will land in Ahmedabad, Gujarat on March 8 and will visit Mumbai on March 9.
The first in-person India-Australia Annual Summit will be held during PM Albanese’s visit to New Delhi on March 10. The two leaders will discuss areas of cooperation under the India-Australia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in addition to regional and global issues of mutual interest.
The first Virtual Summit was held in June 2020 when the bilateral relationship was upgraded to a ‘Comprehensive Strategic Partnership’. A crucial arrangement concerning Mutual Logistics Support (MLSA) for the armed forces from both countries was concluded during this summit.
The second Virtual Summit held in March 2022 led to some key announcements. These included:
A Letter of Intent on Migration and Mobility Partnership Arrangement to foster exchange of skills.
A Letter of Arrangement for Educational Qualifications Recognition to facilitate mobility of students and professionals.
The General Rawat India-Australia Young Defence Officers’ Exchange Programme.
A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for Co-Investment in Critical Minerals Projects in Australia.
Regular high-level interactions
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had paid his first official visit to Australia for G20 Leaders’ Summit in 2014 followed by a bilateral visit during which he addressed a joint sitting of the Parliament of Australia, which was the first by an Indian Prime Minister.
Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Albanese have met thrice on the sidelines of multilateral meetings last year. They met during the Quad Leaders’ Summit in Tokyo in May 2022 and the G-20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia in November 2022. They also had a short interaction at the State Funeral of former Japanese PM Shinzo Abe in Tokyo in September 2022.
The Australian Prime Minister’s visit comes after a series of high-level engagements and Ministerial visits between two sides in 2022 and 2023.
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar visited Australia on February 18, 2023 which was followed by Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s visit to India from February 28 to March 3. Australian Education Minister Jason Clare was also in India from February 28 to March 3, 2023.
Foreign Ministers of India and Australia joined their counterparts from the US and Japan for the Quadrilateral (Quad) group’s Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in New Delhi on March 3, 2023.
Growing India-Australia Economic cooperation
It is worth noting that India-Australia bilateral economic relations have been growing in recent years. The Economic Cooperation Trade Agreement (ECTA) entered into force from December 2022. This marked the first Free Trade Agreement (FTA) signed by India with any developed country in a decade.
ECTA has resulted in immediate reduction of duty to zero on 96% of Indian exports to Australia in value (that is 98% of the tariff lines) and zero duty on 85% of Australia’s exports (in value) to India. The bilateral trade was USD 27.5 billion in 2021. Australia is the 17th largest trading partner of India and India is Australia’s 9th largest trading partner.
According to official estimates, with the ECTA in force, there is potential for bilateral trade to reach around US$ 50 billion in five years. Indian Yoga teachers and Chefs will gain with an annual quota. There has been a resolution of Double Taxation of Indian IT companies which will save them over US$ 200 mn per year.
Active engagement between the armed forces
Bilateral defence cooperation between India and Australia is expanding. The 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue between the Defence Ministers and Foreign Ministers of both countries was held in September 2021. The Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister of Australia visited India in June 2022.
There is active engagement between the tri-services. The joint Army exercise AUSTRAHIND was held in November 2022. The Indian Air Force participated in Exercise Pitch Black in September 2022. Additionally, the Indian Navy’s INS Satpura participated in the multinational Exercise Kakadu in September 2022.
People-to-People Ties, Education
India is one of the top sources of skilled immigrants to Australia. The Indian community in Australia continues to grow in size and importance. According to the 2021 Census, about 9,76,000 people in Australia trace their ancestry as Indian origin, making them the second largest group of overseas born residents in Australia.
There are more than 1 lakh Indian students pursuing various higher education courses in universities across Australia, making Indian students the second largest cohort of foreign students in Australia.
The Mechanism for Mutual Recognition of Educational Qualifications (MREQ) was signed on March 2, 2023 to facilitate the mobility of students between India and Australia. Additionally, Australia’s Deakin University and University of Wollongong are planning to open campuses in India.