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© Neena Bhandari, Indo Asian News Service1

ImageSydney, May 19 (IANS) Commerce is increasingly becoming the byword in the Australia-India bilateral relationship as India's Minister for Commerce and Industry Kamal Nath Monday called for greater trade and investment flows between the two countries.

“Australia and India have enormous potential. The Free Trade Agreement is moving ahead. It harnesses and brings together synergies between our two countries and enhances what was not even thought of a few years ago,” Nath said at a luncheon hosted by the Australia India Business Council (AIBC) and sponsored by the Tata Consultancy Services at the plush Four Seasons Hotel here.

The Minister pointed out that “as India seeks Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), it is also a big investor overseas. The Tatas epitomise India's private sector-driven growth.”

Nath is leading a delegation of over 50 senior Indian business executives and trade officials, along with senior government officials including from the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion -- the key body for approving foreign investment into India. He will meet Australia's Trade Minister Simon Crean, Australian business figures, and trade and investment representatives.

India-Australia economic engagement would substantially increase, but Nath said: “Governments can only enable and assist, in the end, the business to business relationship has to flourish.”

"As the global economic architecture undergoes a sea change, global competitiveness is the name of the game. That is what is changing the manufacturing sector in Australia. Great Australian manufacturers have over the last decade been moving away. It is not because of cheap labour as it is most often made out to be, but it is the technology and globalisation that is driving it,” the Minister said.

"In the global competitiveness terms, the East Asian economies are on growth trajectories, and this is where the engagement between Australia and India comes into play. Shortly, we'll have the Economic Research Institute of Asia (ERIA) to enhance regional cooperation in the east”, he added.

Pointing out that India's domestic market-driven economy is what distinguishes it from other Asian economies, he spoke of the challenges in various sectors and where Australia can pitch in.

For example, “In the agricultural sector, our focus is on post-harvest processing and investment. We are the second largest producer of fruits and vegetables, but 38 per cent of it rots because of lack of cold chain, proper packaging and processing facilities.”

Nath, who is also the author of 'India's Century: The Age of Entrepreneurship In the World's Biggest Democracy', gave a speech on the future of trade relations between the two countries to the conservative think tank, The Sydney Institute.

According to a FICCI-PriceWaterHouseCoopers(PwC) study on India-Australia Trade and Investment Flows, India's demographic profile, with over 550 million people below the age of 25 years, offers a sharp contrast to the labour constraint already being faced by Australia.

The study says there is a huge potential for India's young and skilled labour to power Australia's industry. It highlights the tremendous opportunities that exist for Australian companies to invest in India in sectors such as tourism, infrastructure, petro-chemicals, mining, information technology, biotechnology and bio-informatics.

Head of the delegation, Mukul Kasliwal, told IANS: “Today, the delegations are very focused. In 2006-2007, the bilateral trade was $7.9 billion, which is a quantum leap of 37.5 per cent over the previous year. We are looking for imports from and investment in Australia and at the same time seeking Australian companies to invest in India. There is huge opportunity for joint collaborations in a wide-range of sectors.”

Other high growth areas include education services, retail, consumer products, interior design and lifestyle goods and processed food and wine.

“We are looking for Australian partners for making Mozzarella cheese as India has good buffalo milk with the right protein texture and elasticity to make Mozzarella,” says Vinod Kumar Arora, General Manager of Chanakya Dairy products Limited, a new venture set up in Mandi Gobindgarh in Punjab.

Around 100 Australian companies have set up offices in India, giving a major boost to India-Australia bilateral trade relations. They include TNT express (courier services), Rio Tinto (mining), Telstra (telecommunications), Snowy Mountain Engineering Corporation (infrastructure development), Argyle diamonds (technical support office for diamond sales), BHP Billiton (mining), ANZ (IT), and Fosters (brewery).

Chairman of the News South Wales chapter of the Australia India Business Council (AIBC), Mohan Monteiro, says: “AIBC is committed to promoting trade and investment and further strengthening this relationship.”

The Australia India Joint Ministerial Commission (JMC) will meet in Melbourne Tuesday and, in parallel, the Business Councils from Australia and India will hold the annual Joint Business Council (JBC) meeting.

Australia, India move towards free trade deal

© Neena Bhandari, Indo Asian News Service1

Melbourne, May 20 (IANS) The Australia-India Free Trade Agreement (FTA) may come through as early as next year with Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean and India's Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath Tuesday agreeing that the FTA feasibility study report would be presented to the government by the year-end.

"We welcome the good momentum established in the joint FTA feasibility study and (are) committed to adopting a bold and ambitious approach to the study," said Crean.

Nath thinks a free trade agreement with at least 90 percent coverage could be signed next year.

Australia wants to ensure that it is best positioned to capitalise on the potential of this bilateral relationship, particularly in the resources and energy sectors. Australia also wants to leverage its competence in services, manufacturing, biotechnology and agricultural sectors.

However, Australian uranium sales to India would depend on India ratifying a nuclear cooperation agreement with the US, including safeguards for civilian nuclear reactors.

"We will take this up with Australia after that," Nath told IANS.

During the annual Joint Ministerial Commission (JMC) meeting Tuesday, Crean discussed Australia's market access requests with Nath, as well as its concerns about India's sugar export subsidies, reiterating that Australia sought an end to the subsidies.

Both countries reaffirmed their common commitment to bring about a successful conclusion to the Doha Round of World Trade Organisation talks this year.

Crean said: "We welcomed the release overnight in Geneva of the revised negotiating texts on agriculture and industrial goods. This shows there's been a significant narrowing of gaps in a number of areas, reflecting the good progress that has been made in recent weeks and months."

The two countries are partners in the East Asia Summit and Australia supports India's membership of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) when the moratorium expires.

Echoing Nath's sentiments on the "enormous untapped potential" in this bilateral relationship, Crean said: "While India is already Australia's sixth largest merchandise export market and eighth largest services market, there is potential to do much more together.

"Our economies have striking economic complementarities and are natural trade and investment partners. I am committed to taking the bilateral relationship with India to a higher level."

He added: "It is in Australia's national interests that our economic links with India continue to broaden. Our two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on intellectual property cooperation and have also begun new dialogues and exchanges on economic policy, water management issues and competition policy. Our people-to-people links are helping cement India as a key economic partner for Australia."

India is Australia's fastest growing major export market for both goods and services - increasing at over 30 percent annually over the last five years. This current financial year, India has become the largest source of skilled migrants to Australia. It is also the second largest recipient of business and student visas.

This is the third time Crean and Nath have met since the Kevin Rudd-led Labour government came to power last December.

The discussions Tuesday spanned broad cooperation in multilateral, regional economic forums and bilateral trade ties.

Nath is leading a delegation of over 50 senior Indian business executives and trade officials along with government officials.

© Copyright Neena Bhandari. All rights reserved. Republication, copying or using information from any content is expressly prohibited without  the permission of the writer and the news agency through which the article is syndicated. 
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