India-Australia Relations

A virtual bilateral summit was held virtually for the first time between the Prime Ministers of India and Australia.

A few of the major outcomes of the Summit was the Elevation of the bilateral Strategic Partnership to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. The Elevation of the “2+2” engagement to the level of Foreign and Defence Ministers, where strategic discussions will be taking place every two years. India previously has had such mechanisms with USA and Japan.

Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was established for cooperation in the field of mining and processing of Critical and Strategic minerals. Along with it, the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement was also signed. A Joint declaration on the shared vision for Maritime Cooperation in the Indo- Pacific region was also emphasized upon.

India- Australia Relations is not a ‘today affair’ as the two countries began their alliances during the cold war period back since when Australia was United States’ closest ally, also remembered to when India opted for non-alignment. The end of the Cold War and the launch major economic reforms in 1991 provided the first positive move towards development of closer ties between these two nations.

However, this could not last long as India’s nuclear status outside the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) resulted in Australia taking a particularly strong stance against India’s 1998 nuclear tests.

 With the changing global scenario in 21st century, Australia looked at India as an important partner in promoting regional security and stability. This led to up progression of their bilateral relationship to a ‘Strategic Partnership’, as well as a Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation in 2009.

Talking of the Economic and commercial relations, the Bilateral goods and services trade between these two nations was about $30.3 billion in 2018-19, and the level of two-way investment was $30.7 billion in 2018.

Australia announced implementation of “An India Economic Strategy to 2035” in 2018. A vision document to shape India- Australia bilateral ties. India is also preparing an Australia Economic Strategy Paper (AES) on these similar outlines.

The two countries have also decided to re-engage meetings on a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA). These discussions first started in 2011, and the last time it happened was in 2015.

In the Defence and security cooperation field, there was a Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement signed between the two in 2014 which had also enabled India to secure uranium from Australia.

Both of the countries also contracted Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT), Extradition Treaty and the Social Security Agreement.

Maritime Security cooperation is seen in the form of joint exercises like AUSINDEX 2019, AUSTRAHIND, Exercise Pitch Black and Kakadu biennial exercise (Hosted by the Australian Navy).

Some concerns that remain in India-Australia relations is the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) which is still unsettled after nine rounds of negotiations. India had also earlier opted out from Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Among other things, India and Australia could not reach to agreement on the market access over agriculture and dairy products.

Furthermore, an Australia-India Strategic Research Fund commenced in 2006 for scientists to collaborate on leading-edge research. Agreement on Cyber and Cyber-Enabled Critical Technology was also signed of late to promote cooperation in the extents of digital economy, cyber security, critical and emerging technologies.

The economy of Australia has been quite heavily dependent on China, as China is one of Australia’s largest trading partners and accounts for 26 % of its world trade. Chinese aggressions and assertive foreign policies are common apprehensions between the two nations and certainly has brought both the democracies closer.

Both the countries have also shown similar interests in the vision of an open, free inclusive and rules-based Indo-Pacific region. Australia’s Pacific Step Up and India’s Forum for India-Pacific Islands Cooperation (FIPIC) give reaffirmation of their cooperation in the South Pacific region.

Both also have co-operated in various multilateral fora including QUAD security dialogue, G-20, Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA), East Asia Summits, ASEAN Regional Forum etc.

The People to People Relations have found a different edge for these countries as the Indian diaspora, estimated at nearly 7 lakhs is the fastest growing in Australia and has become a constructive factor in the bilateral relations. Including that, almost 1 lakh Indian students are enrolled for studying in Australia and the under New Colombo Plan of Australian government, Australian undergraduates have studied and completed numerous internships in India.

Australia Government has also affirmed to help in establishing a world class Sports University in India.