2016: One of the most beneficial years for Australia-India ties

Melbourne: The year 2016 proved to be one of the most beneficial years for Australia-India strategic ties which witnessed active economic, defence engagements and improved cultural linkages, providing a good base to further cement bilateral relations.

The year kicked off with an important visit by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley along with a large group of top business and industry leaders to explore and seek Australian investments, especially from the estimated $2 trillion superannuation funds industry.

“The Australia-India relationship (in 2016) was stronger, more diverse and more active than has ever been the case,” said Australian High Commissioner to India Harinder Sidhu.

Sidhu said the bilateral relationship which was elevated to the status of strategic partnership in 2009, had grown dramatically and “since the time our two Prime Ministers visited each others’ countries in 2014, it has accelerated again.”

Overall on the economic front, India was Australia’s ninth largest trading partner and fifth largest export market, with two-way trade valued at around $20 billion.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull recently told a business leaders meeting that his government had ‘high hopes’ of concluding the Australia-India comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement with discussions to be ramped up in 2017 with the Indian side.

Turnbull is also expected to visit India in 2017 after Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited him on the sidelines of the G20 summit in China in September.

On the defence and security front, the then Indian Army chief General Dalbir Singh made a five-day official trip to Down Under where he held high-level talks to expand military-to-military ties and visited an Australian military school.

The two sides held the annual bilateral maritime dialogue in 2016 as part of a comprehensive bilateral architecture which covers issues as diverse as counter-terrorism, energy security and science and technology.

According to Sidhu, the bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement had entered into force, enabling the export of uranium to India.

“We are moving to build a reliable basis for commercial uranium sales to India. As new reactors come online, we hope to supply a good part of India’s 2,000 tonne demand per year,” she said.

Early in 2016, a new social security agreement signed between India and Australia came into operation enabling people of both nations to avail retirement benefits in each other’s country, a pact likely to boost bilateral business linkages.

“This is expected to save Australian businesses operating in India about $10 million per year, and put Australian businesses on an equal footing with their competitors from other countries that already have similar agreements with India,” Australian Minister for Small Business and Assistant Treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer had said.