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Business News/ News / Australian envoy says ties with India at historic high
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Australian envoy says ties with India at historic high

Green’s personal ambition will be facilitating integration of Indian military’s elements with Australia’s armed forces, and allowing Indian armed forces personnel in Australia’s joint headquarters

Australian high commissioner to India Phillip Green. Premium
Australian high commissioner to India Phillip Green.

New Delhi: Australia’s new High Commissioner to India, Philip Green, said bilateral relations are at an all-time high and he will seek to bolster defence cooperation or “interchangeability" between the two nations. Green’s personal ambition will be facilitating integration of Indian military’s elements with Australia’s armed forces, and allowing Indian armed forces personnel in Australia’s joint headquarters. In an interview, he said Canberra is keen on an early completion of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement. Green also shared his views on the challenges faced by India and Australia in dealing with China. Edited excerpts:

Where do you see the India-Australia relationship heading?

So, first thing to say is we are at a historically high point and the bilateral relationship has never seen as much prospect and forward movement as we’ve right now. There are three underlying drivers that are driving this bilateral relationship. One, for the first time in our history, Australia and India have a very high level of strategic alignment. We’re partners in the Indo Pacific. Two, economics. India is now the fifth biggest economy, and growing at 7% per annum. Any country will be interested in India. But Australia isn’t any other country. We’re a neighbour, a strategic partner, and perhaps most importantly, we have a highly complementary economy. The third strategic driver is the very large population of Indian origin in Australia. A million people is not a lot by Indian standards but it’s nearly 4% of our population. We are at a high point, but I want to achieve more.

How do you see the border conflict between India and China?

Fundamentally India and China should resolve this border conflict. We want to avoid an outbreak of hostilities and very much support the resolution of these differences according to law and through dialogues between the parties. This difference is long standing. It would be a good thing, if we were able to get to a point where we thought that the prospect of conflict was minimized.

How has the defence relationship evolved?

We are determined to work more closely on maritime domain awareness and that’s probably where our defence interests, most obviously intersect. The focus of that is in the Northeast Indian Ocean, which is where we have greatest interest and where each of us has competency that we can deploy and utilize to each other’s benefit. India has geography and capability that gives it access to certain information on what is happening in Indian Ocean. We have geography and capabilities that gives us information. The more we are able to share information that derives from it, more we have a better picture together of what’s going on the ground. Perhaps the most important thing that has been happening in recent times is the utilization of each other’s islands in the Northeast Indian Ocean to be able to engage in operations. So, landings of Australian P8 aircraft on the Nicobar and Andaman Islands and the landings of Dornier aircraft on our Cocos (Keeling) islands. That could be a pointer to the future of how we might be able to use each other’s geography to greater benefit. We talk a lot about interoperability and that will be important. My ambition—and this is a bit over the horizon, but hopefully something we would be able to be deploying, by the time I leave this country—is interchangeability. We will be able to put elements of the Australian defence forces into elements of Indian defence forces, and for them to be operating together seamlessly. Having members of the Indian defence forces in some of our joint headquarters and operating as a part of an Australian unit is a bit over the horizon at the moment, but that’s the direction in which I would like to head for. However, this is a personal aspiration as the Australian High Commissioner to India.

There has been a lot of interest in partnerships on critical minerals mining between companies from both countries. What is happening there?

We are deploying substantial effort to ensure that the Indian government and firms get access to the levels of Australian critical minerals that they need. And that effort is in two domains. Firstly, there’s a government to business domain. I am in direct contact with senior levels of a number of your biggest firms who have an interest in getting access to Australian critical minerals. My message to them is we want India to be able to access a level of critical minerals from Australia. And my team deploys effort to support that. But the competition is substantial. And American, North Asian and European firms are already in the queue. Indian firms need to act quickly and decidedly purposefully in order to secure what they want. Just about all of the critical minerals currently being mined in Australia has already been called for. So the game at the moment is to establish new mines in which we would be delighted if there was Indian equity. And, you know, it’s not for me to identify which of your firms are in line for that, but there are some that are in line and that’s really good to see.

How has the India-Australia ECTA agreement changed the outlook for Australian businesses? Will we see the comprehensive CECA agreement finalised soon?

Firstly, there is the practical benefit that ECTA trade agreement brings. At the moment, the utilisation rate of ECTA is above 75%, amongst the highest of your free trade agreements. So Indian businesses are making use of ECTA. And number two, that’s having a decided effect. Indian exports of agricultural goods to Australia are up 15% and textiles exports are up 10%.

Another thing is the way in which free trade agreements have a head-turning effect and make businesses look at a jurisdiction that they’ve never looked at before. And I see a lot of that.

We’re very happy with ECTA, but our ambition is unfulfilled, and we would favour an early conclusion of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement. It’s clear that at this point in the cycle, the Indian side is very focused on finalising a free trade agreement with the UK. We understand that. And it’s clear also that for the next couple of months, the ministerial level will be focused on elections. That’s also fine. We will continue to work at officials’ level to make sure that we can resolve whatever is resolvable at officials’ level, even while your election is going on. Our Trade Minister, Don Farrell, is keen to engage with whomever is the Minister for Commerce and Trade in India after the election to ensure that we get back on a high-level negotiation as soon as the Indian elections are out of the way.

It has been some months since news surfaced on the Nijjar and Pannun assassination cases. Australia had expressed concern at the time. How has this impacted the bilateral relationship?

I’m not going to go back over the issues and details relating to those cases. We expressed our concerns at the time. We feel very strongly about the rule of law. We are building a deep and strong and vibrant bilateral relationship that is big enough to engage with sensitive issues and to experience different points of view and be able to move on. I think that’s what you’ve seen. We had conversations that were sensitive and at times difficult. But as you saw with the way in which Dr Jaishankar and Penny Wong were interacting in Perth at the Indian Ocean Conference, our vibrant bilateral relationship goes on apace.

 

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Published: 16 Feb 2024, 11:50 PM IST
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