NSW must reconsider decision on trade commissioners

The NSW Government’s decision to retire the role of trade commissioners to India will put it to a disadvantage as compared to other states

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The decision by NSW Industry and Trade Minister Anoulack Chanthivong to retire the role of trade commissioners to India announced last month, is wrong, and puts NSW to a disadvantage as compared to other states.

Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia are not only consolidating but building on their foundations of a better relationship with India.

The NSW government, scarred by the scandals of John Barilaro’s ‘jobs for the boys’ controversial appointment of the US Trade and Investment Commissioner and the resulting political fallout, has decided that trade commissioners’ roles are unnecessary and will not renew these positions as they end in 2025.

This announcement came just weeks after the highly successful visit to India by Prime Minister Albanese with the Australian corporate who’s who to drum up trade activity with India, and just before a highly anticipated visit by Indian PM Narendra Modi.

Even the newly established Centre for Australia India Relations seems to have a corporate focus, with both Chair Swati Dave and CEO Tim Thomas bringing high profile corporate backgrounds to their new roles.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s first meeting with local Indian diaspora in Parramatta recently also had invites sent to local small business leaders.

Currently, the state of Queensland leads overseas trade commissioners’ appointments with twelve, South Australia has seven, Victoria and Western Australia have five and NSW has four.

Experienced trade commissioners add value to the relationship by driving trade and investments to their home states. One only has to look at the work which Victoria is doing in India, by hosting their regular wine and food festivals and bringing in their state’s celebrity chefs such as former MasterChef judge Gary Mehigan to build a stronger brand presence there. Queensland is looking to announce a special position of trade envoy to India. Western Australia, both because of its proximity to India and as a resource rich state, has strong commercial links with India.

At a time when NSW needs to broaden its engagement with India, it is in fact pulling back. Minister Chantivong’s statement that he plans to work closely with the Federal Government and Austrade as well as industry groups, and that the state already has relationships across the globe to put NSW front and centre in the global battle for capital, perhaps needs reconsideration. Rather than ride the coattails of Austrade, NSW needs to build its own presence in India.

NSW India
Lower numbers: Indian students at the University of Sydney (Source: Supplied)

NSW seems to be losing out even in picking the low hanging fruit of education services. According to the Australian Government’s Dept of Education, the number of Indian students studying Victorian courses for the January-February 2023 period was 33,978, as compared to Indian students studying NSW courses at 24,527. It seems to be a battle that NSW is losing.

NSW as Australia’s leading state needs to impose its own presence in India and harness the growing strength of the Indian middle class to build a stronger trade and business relationship.

With both the NSW Treasurer Daniel Mookhey and newly elected Indian-origin MP Charishma Kaliyanda hopefully pushing for a stronger business relationship, perhaps it is time for the newly elected Minns Govt to go back to the drawing board, and accord the India relationship the respect it deserves.

Read more: Swati Dave, CAIR chair: Making contemporary India accessible

Pawan Luthra
Pawan Luthra
Pawan is the publisher of Indian Link and is one of Indian Link's founders. He writes the Editorial section.

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