Australia and India: Fostering collaboration for growth
H.E. Harinder Sidhu, Australian High Commissioner to India
Confederation of Indian Industry Address, Chandigarh
25 July 2016
I am delighted to be in Chandigarh for my first visit since assuming my role as High Commissioner.
It is a very special visit for me at a personal level. Both my parents are Punjabi, and my father was born in Punjab. I grew up speaking – well, listening! – to Punjabi growing up. So it’s a great privilege for me to address you today as the Australian High Commissioner to India.
We also have a unique coincidence in that both the current Australian High Commissioner to India and the Indian High Commissioner to Australia have Punjabi roots. I think this bodes well not only for Australia-India ties, but specifically for our links with Punjab.
Australia’s relationship with Punjab and Haryana
Punjab and Haryana are among the first states to which I’ve undertaken official visits, and there is good reason for this.
Australia and India’s northern region enjoy close ties. Punjabis are among the most globally mobile Indians and, as such, many Punjabis live in Australia.
It is also one of the most culturally significant states to Australia - the number of Australians citing Punjabi as the spoken language at home has grown by more than 200 per cent, making it the fastest growing language in Australia.
More broadly, the northern region is also one of the most fertile and wealthy regions of India. The region promises many exciting economic opportunities for Australia.
In recognition of this, we created an Austrade office in 2010 to boost two-way trade and investment with Australia. I am sure our representative, Ashish Sharma, is known to most of you.
Today I’d like to speak with you about how we can work together to build on the strong foundation we have built together.
Australia-India economic relationship
The Australia-India relationship has expanded significantly in recent years. And political support for that relationship has also strengthened.
During Prime Minister Modi's state visit to Australia in November 2014, he told the Australian Parliament that he sees: “Australia as a major partner in every area of our national priority.”
And I like to think that is so. In 2009 we raised our bilateral relationship to the level of a Strategic Partnership. The reciprocal visits in 2014 of Australian and Indian Prime Ministers created tremendous momentum in the relationship, in every aspect.
The two Prime Ministers agreed a wide range of activities, from military and strategic cooperation, to building trade and business links and also to areas such as education, sport and the environment.
On the economic front, India is now the fastest growing major economy in the world. Its rapid development opens up significant opportunities not just for Indian businesses, but also for Australian business and investment.
Australia’s Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, reflected this dynamic in a recent speech where he said that “trade with India has not looked this promising for hundreds of years”.
And there is a sound basis for that assessment.
Two way trade between India and Australia in 2015 was valued at $A20 billion. This is a significant figure. This means that last year India was Australia’s fifth largest export market and ninth largest trading partner.
Even though this is a very significant figure, the trading base is very narrow - 70% of Australian exports to India comprise only two items – coal and gold. If we are to build depth to our economic relationship, we need to broaden its base.
This can only happen if both countries are open to greater trade and investment flows. Conclusion of the bilateral Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement – or CECA – will help. But so will policies and practices consistent with a liberalised trading regime.
Australia’s relationships with Northern India
Of course, Australia’s economic links with India vary from one part to another.
In the northern region, we have strong engagement in traditional as well non-traditional sectors. Allow me to sketch out a few of these.
Education is the backbone of the relationship with this region. The vast majority of Indian students who have studied in Australia in recent years have come from the Punjab.
Beyond this, I am pleased to see the growth in a number of university arrangements to undertake joint PhD supervision, joint research and student and faculty exchanges.
In vocational and education training, we have more than 15 sectors of focus. Major sectors include construction, electrical, healthcare, hospitality and automotive skills training. These areas are vital to ensuring that India has the skilled workforce it needs to supply the demands of a rapidly developing economy.
Australia’s agriculture sector is among the best-performing in the world. We consistently produce clean, high quality product at very low cost. Australians are highly efficient dairy producers. We excel in exporting quality meat, in grain farming, grain storage and other farm services. We also have strengths in water management, water treatment and smart irrigation practices.
As Punjab and Haryana are both agricultural economies, I see enormous scope for cooperation. In the dairy sector, for example, while India is the world’s largest dairy producer, this is because of the large number of cattle.
However, an average Australian cow produces more than five times as much milk as an Indian cow. India stands to benefit greatly through collaboration with Australia on the dairy sector – from sharing bovine genetics through to technologies and farming practices to raise productivity.
We would be keen to see delegations from Punjab and Haryana attend International Dairy Week in Australia in January 2017, to identify other areas where we can work together.
Australia has strengths in farm services and in grain storage. We’ve developed world-renowned alternatives in bulk grain storage solutions – from silos to bunkers. These providers are exploring participation in Punjab’s AgroTech 2016 being organised by CII.
The key for Australian business is sustainable agriculture. We work on the basis of sustainability in productivity and production, using innovation to manage the pressures of climate change and limited resources (land, soil water). We would be happy to develop commercial ties with Punjab and Haryana and share our skills and technology on a sustainable, commercial basis.
Australia has a lot to offer India in the sports sector, and particularly in Punjab and Haryana.
This year the Punjab Institute of Sports, which I will be visiting on Wednesday, signed an MoU with Victoria University to design a long term athlete development program. The model includes designing a sport ecosystem, encouraging sports participation and identifying talent at an early age.
Sport is also emerging as a field which offers strong employment opportunities. India will require an estimated 4.3 million skilled workers in the sports industry by 2020. To support this, Australia is working with sporting institutions in the Punjab to build academic collaborations in sports physiology and biomechanics, sports physiotherapy, nutrition and psychology.
We are open to do similar tie ups in Haryana and I will be personally exploring these opportunities with Chief Minister Khattar.
Infrastructure and Smart cities
Australia has a lot to offer in infrastructure and smart cities. A consortium of companies led by Queensland University of Technology has been formed and is interested in signing an MoU with CII’s National Mission on Smart Cities.
Road safety is another area of focus. Australian company UraP International is working on a World Bank funded project in Punjab to assist the government with road safety audits on state highways. It’s an important project aimed at saving lives and reducing the risk of road injury – one of the top 10 killers in India.
Promoting small business – ABWI
Finally, I wanted to mention the work we have been doing with CII on promoting small business participation between Australia and India. This has been most notably promoted through our largest ever trade delegation to India – the Australia Business Week in India (ABWI) – which, in January 2015, saw 450 business representatives come to India, led by our Trade Minister. Some of you will recall we brought a delegation dedicated to dairy matters come to Chandigarh. I’m pleased to see that interest among those businesses has continued since then.
We deeply appreciate the partnership with CII on ABWI. We will be returning with ABWI again in early 2017. I look forward to promoting more business links between our two countries and deepening existing links, including among small and medium enterprises.
Allow me to conclude with a story about a small town in northern New South Wales called Woolgoolga, which is in the midst of Australia’s banana-growing district. The first Sikhs settled there in around 1940. In 1969 they built Australia’s first Sikh Gurudwara.
Today, around half the population of this town is either Sikh or of Sikh descent. And they own around 90 per cent of the banana farms in that district. It is a prosperous and successful agricultural community. It is also a distinctly Australian community in its lifestyle and outlook.
The success of this community is testament to the qualities which we both share. These are qualities of openness, tolerance, practicality and a strong work ethic.
I see enormous potential for both our peoples to draw on these very qualities and build a strong and unique Australia-India relationship. And I look forward to working with you all to help achieve that.