Home / News / India /  Trade, defence and education in focus as Australian PM visits India

Two days into Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s first official visit to New Delhi, it is increasingly clear that the new Australian leader’s focus is on economic ties, defence and education.

Trade and investment ties have been a particularly important subject for New Delhi and Canberra in recent years, given that both sides are currently negotiating a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement. Prime Minister Albanese has talked up the economic synergies between the two countries during his time in India. 

“We have natural resources, we have critical minerals, we have research nous. India has manufacturing scale, has high domestic demand, a growing middle class, and enormous research capacity," said Albanese, who has visited India twice before. 

Navdeep Suri, India’s former High Commissioner to Australia, believes that Prime Minister Albanese’s optimism for bilateral economic ties may be merited. 

“This is one of the few relationships where the two governments have moved faster to recognise each other’s potential than the businesses have. Business has lagged behind the political dynamism the relationship has shown. This might be because business was wedded to the China story, which has been disrupted by certain aggressive Chinese actions. Australian business can also be risk averse," says Suri, who served as India’s envoy from 2015 to 2016. 

“While we’ve seen the Gulf sovereign funds and Canada’s pension funds invest quite aggressively into the Indian market, the asset-rich Australian superfunds have lagged behind," argues Ambassador Suri. 

That may change. Albanese landed in Ahmedabad on Wednesday with what he called “the most serious business delegation that I’ve seen leave Australian shores" in tow. The new Prime Minister, who took office in May last year, has also spoken publicly of the need to improve Australian business literacy about India. 

Defence ties have also taken centre-stage. 

“My visit reflects my government’s commitment to place India at the heart of Australia’s approach to the Indo-Pacific and beyond," said Albanese, while on board India’s first indigenously built aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant. 

“India is a top tier security partner. The Indian Ocean is central to both countries’ security and prosperity," said the Prime Minister. 

New Delhi and Canberra have built an increasingly close defence partnership over the last decade. Military exercises like AUSINDEX, Pitch Black and Malabar have built greater interoperability between defence services even as agreements like the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement have made joint operations and exercises easier. 

Albanese also revealed that India will be invited to participate in Talisman Sabre, an international military exercise hosted by the Australian and American defence forces. 

Education cooperation has also been a major focus for Canberra. An education qualification recognition mechanism was agreed to which will allow for Indian university degrees to be recognised in Australia. 

“The new mechanism means that if you are an Indian student who is studying or have studied in Australia, your hard-earned degree will be recognised when you return home. Or if you are a member of Australia’s very large Indian diaspora --500,000 and growing -- you will feel more confident that your Indian qualification will be recognised in Australia," said Albanese.

Albanese also reveleased that Deakin University will be among the first foreign universities to set up a university campus in India. The University of Wollongong, he added, was also among the universities looking to set up a campus in GIFT City in Ahmedabad. 

He also announced the creation of the Maitri scholarship program. 

“These are for Indian students to study in Australia for up to four years.The scholarships are part of the wider Maitri program that seeks to boost cultural, educational and community ties between Australia and India," said the Australian leader. 

“It’s a very timely visit and sustains the momentum that we’ve had in our ties with Australia over the last three years," says Ambassador Suri. 

“There is now a strong bipartisan consensus in Australian politics for closer ties with India. This was not always the case. Scott Morrison as Prime Minister put a lot of energy in this partnership even though he was not able to come to India himself due to COVID. Albanese has picked up the threads very quickly," adds the veteran diplomat.

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