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NEW DELHI : Indicating potential investments in India, Australia’s High Commissioner to India Barry O’Farrell said pension funds from his country would play a role in India’s growth trajectory.

Australia, home to the world’s fifth-largest pension market, worth $2.8 trillion in 2021, has been actively seeking markets for investment from these funds. Earlier this year, it announced plans to invest £23 billion in the UK and Europe over the next five years.

Citing declining trust in China, O’Farrell in an interview called for Australia and India to cut economic dependence on China. As part of this effort, Australia will expand funding for the India-Australia critical minerals partnership to secure supplies. The envoy said that negotiations for a new Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) have begun, under which deeper engagement on digital trade, investment flows and professional services will be discussed. Edited excerpts:

What do you think of the recently concluded ECTA (interim trade) agreement between India and Australia?

This agreement is transformational. It ensures that we harness the complementary nature of our economies, whether in energy, resources, tourism or professional services. The impetus came from the pandemic, which changed the world. All governments learned economic and health lessons, which I think created the spark that led the ministers to get this early harvest deal done in a remarkably short time.

When are the negotiations for the more comprehensive CEPA agreement going to start? What is Australia looking for?

The good news is the discussions between the two negotiating teams commenced a couple of months ago. Both ministers have it made clear that it is a priority to get this done as quickly as possible. It will traverse goods and services like the first agreement, but it will also go into digital trade and investment. We would argue that the second or third largest pension funds in Asia, which are in Australia, will be important in assisting India’s growth trajectory. For example, PM Modi’s desire to deliver certain missions, including on electric vehicles which are fuelled by critical minerals, will be helped by ECTA, which allows India top-shelf access to critical minerals.

What is your vision for the India-Australia critical minerals partnership?

The bottom line is that Australia is blessed with critical mineral reserves. Some mines have been developed, and others are being developed and will be looking for inbound investment. India is looking at processing the raw materials that come out. Covid has taught us certain lessons. Relying too much on a certain partner, like your northern neighbour (China), for these minerals or Australia’s reliance on that same country for a range of products can be a problem. That’s why we are all trying to diversify. India is in a particularly good position because the world wants India to succeed economically. The world needs to have a competitive economic ecosystem.

Where do you see the India-Australia defence relationship headed?

When it comes to the defence of the Indo-Pacific, there couldn’t be closer partners than India and Australia. This is characterized not just by the Quad but also by the complexity and the frequency of our joint activities. As we sit here today, we have the AustraHind exercise ongoing in Rajasthan.

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