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Australian Bureau of Statistics data showed Tuesday that Indians moving to Australia were the largest overseas migrant cohort in last 10 years and have supplanted China as the second-biggest diaspora living Down Under.

In the past decade (from 2011 to 2021), Indian-born migrants rose by 373,000, followed by 208,000 from China and 118,000 from the Philippines, the government data shows. 

Now, Indians account for 2.8% of the population, compared with China’s 2.3%, while Britons lead with 3.8%.

Yet reflecting the distortions of Covid-19, the proportion of Australia’s population who are overseas-born actually edged down to 29.1% in 2021 from 29.8% a year earlier. That was due to the shuttering of the borders, meaning almost no new arrivals and few Australian departures in the period.

Just under half of all Australians were either born overseas or had a parent who was, according to the most recent data from 2016. Immigration played a central role in Australia avoiding recession for 28 years until Covid-19 finally sent the economy into reverse. 

China’s fall from second to third place as a source of immigrants came as ties between Australia and its top trading partner were deteriorating.

They went into freefall in 2020 as Prime Minister Scott Morrison led calls for an independent probe into the origins of the coronavirus that first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Beijing, infuriated, responded with a volley of punitive trade actions that have hit commodities from coal to barley, lobsters and wine.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told Bloomberg in an interview last month that Australia will look to reduce its dependence on China in the face of “economic coercion" from Beijing. India’s swelling population -- set to overtake China’s in 2027 -- suggests ongoing opportunities to diversify the trade portfolio.

FTA deal

Australia recently signed a trade deal with India as the two nations signalled an intention to forge closer trade ties in a bid to boost trade -- currently dominated by coal -- from a modest A$24.3 billion in 2020. 

The Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement was signed in a virtual ceremony by Trade Minister Dan Tehan and India's Minister of Commerce & Industry, Piyush Goyal.

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison and India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi witnessed the virtual ceremony.

Speaking to reporters in Tasmania, Morrison said the agreement with the world's second most populous nation represented “one of the biggest economic doors there is to open in the world today".

“These are never all or nothing deals as far as we're concerned, we see all of these as the next step and the next step and the next step," he said, expressing both countries intention to build closer trade links.

With agency inputs

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