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Australia India Business Council NSW annual dinner raises the bar
What was refreshing in the 2015 annual Australia India Address, the flagship event organised by Australia India Business Council (AIBC) NSW, were the candid words by the AIBC NSW President, Raja Venkateswar, and the follow through by High Commissioner of India to Australia, Navdeep Suri.
If the best way to solve a problem is to actually acknowledge there is one, then Raja Venkateswar as the new AIBC NSW President addressed the elephant in the room when he acknowledged that bilateral trade between India and Australia has been stagnant at about $15 billion over the past few years.
“For two ivy league nations such as Australia and India, to have a languishing trade situation, one needs to question why this is happening,” he challenged the 250 attendees at the AIBC NSW dinner, held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Sydney.
“I think the time has come for that great leap of faith, the leap from mediocrity to excellence; from unambitious existence to remarkable success,” Venkateswar said.
While this may seem a mission statement with limited connection to reality, he also shared his solution for how this could happen.
“I personally think a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement and the Free Trade agreement between India and Australia are inflexion points in the overall ecosystem.”
While details of the FTA are still being worked out, the Indian High Commissioner to Australia, Navdeep Suri prosecuted the case for why India is such an important economic partner for Australia. With a slide of India’s development agenda on the giant screens behind him, the High Commissioner spoke about the success of PM Modi’s current visit to the United States, especially his desire to engage with the entrepreneurs in the Silicon Valley.
“India is the place to do business,” he said. “In 2001, Goldman Sachs came up with the acronym BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Fast forward to 2015 and the Indian economy is the only one which is not down, but growing. Our latest figures bring in growth at 7.3 per cent, the current account deficit is less than one per cent due to falling oil prices and our foreign exchange reserves are very good. The interest rates are on the way down and we have more room to stimulate our economy for better growth. The international ratings agency Moody’s have expressed their confidence in the Indian economy,” he added.
The international economic adjudicator Moody’s view that India’s recent and proposed policies will stabilise inflation, improve the regulatory environment, increase infrastructure investment and lower government debt ratios has been an exoneration of recent government measures.
Mr Suri further added while there was always respect for the religious book Gita, there is another GITA in modern day India.
“Global Innovation Technology Alliance is the new form of Gita, and India is where there is opportunity for innovation. We just have to look at our electronic voting system, where the decisions of over 540 million people are tabulated and counted in a single evening. With over 600,000 schools in India, technology will be required to deliver even basic education,” he reminded all regarding the opportunities which exist in India.
The main address was to be delivered by the Federal Minister for Trade and Investment, Andrew Robb, but he was a late cancellation and Christopher Pyne, Federal Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science took his place.
Being in his new portfolio for just a few weeks, Christopher Pyne spoke little about the opportunities with Digital India, instead speaking about the great opportunities that the mining and agricultural sectors have for India and Australia.
“Australia has tremendous opportunities to support India to grow its economy, to employ its people and to create wealth through the mining sector,” he said.
John Ajaka, NSW Minister for Multiculturalism, officially representing Premier Mike Baird, also acknowledged the growing relationship between Australia and India. He built on the tourism theme saying, “New South Wales received more than half of all visitors from India to Australia last year, contributing $190 million to the state economy.”
For the social part of the evening, guests were treated to an up close and personal chat with Indian Consul General in Sydney, Sunjay Sudhir. Interviewed skilfully by AIBC National Vice Chair Sheba Nandkeolyar, the Consul General talked about his time in Sydney, the highlight of PM Modi’s visit, his favourite book and his interest in sports.
AIBC National President Dipen Rughani then fronted up with cricket legend Glenn McGrath in a conversation about cricket, India and all things Bollywood.
The evening, while long, was a wonderful way for the business community to connect and was well paced by an extremely able master of ceremonies, Deborah Bradshaw, who with her quirky sense of humour kept all entertained.
During the visit to Australia, leaders Abbott and Modi set a target of $50 billion of bilateral trade by next year. This seems a colossal jump from where trade sits at the moment, but as Venkateswar said, “Disruption needs to happen and service based innovation can be an important source of creating more bilateral trade between India and Australia.”
While Venkateswar and High Commissioner Suri were reading from the same script, both Minister Pyne and Ajaka had a different approach. And therein lies the challenge for both the countries – to work through mutual growth opportunities to break through the $15 billion bilateral trade barrier!