A virtual meet between Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia and Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India this week ended with a number of announcements to advance the relationship between the two countries.
While an announcement on the much-awaited Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement did not eventuate, a joint statement noted the “considerable progress made in the CECA negotiations.”
Prime Minister Modi observed, “I am confident that the remaining issues will also be agreed upon soon. The early completion of “CECA” will be crucial for our economic relations, economic revival, and economic security.”
A joint statement issued by both nations noted ‘convergence on many of the elements’ and re-committed to ‘concluding an Interim CECA at the earliest and work towards an ambitious, full CECA by the end of the year to enhance trade and investment ties and deepen the CSP (Comprehensive Strategic Partnership).’
On Ukraine, the two nations have had differing standpoints, but their leaders expressed “their serious concern about the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine,” calling for “an immediate cessation of hostilities”.
Their joint statement stressed that the contemporary global order has been built on the UN Charter, and called for “respect for sovereignty and the territorial integrity of states”.
India has had to walk a diplomatic tightrope over Ukraine as it tries to balance ties with Moscow and the West. Russia continues to be India’s largest arms supplier. India is also considering buying Russian oil at a subsided rate with reports that a state-owned company has signed a deal to import 3 million barrels of crude from a Russian company.
Education and Skilling
The announcement of the Taskforce on Education Qualifications Recognition was greeted with some excitement. Although no specifics are available so far, it was announced that “the Taskforce will deliver a cooperative mechanism, within six months of its establishment, to improve arrangements for the recognition of qualifications (including those earned through diverse delivery modes) for access to higher education, and to support employment opportunities.”
The move acknowledges the different systems in the two countries for the recognition of educational qualifications, and aims to “expand and optimize the long-standing India-Australia education and skilling relationship.”
India-trained medical and dentistry graduates face a draconian system of requalification in Australia, including considerable financial drain. Whether the new announcement will ease their burden is not known so far.
The Australian Government announced it will establish a new Centre for Australia-India Relations. With a funding of $28.1 million, the Australia-based Centre will support exchange and cooperation with India.
Marise Payne, Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, elaborated in a statement, “The Centre will focus on four key areas of work: promoting policy dialogue; building Australian business literacy and links; engaging Australia’s Indian diaspora communities to support the Australia-India bilateral relationship, and deepening cultural connections and understanding.”
The Centre will also administer the $20.8 million Maitri (friendship) scholars, fellowship programs and cultural partnership, announced last month.
The Australia India Council has already helped foster education and cultural exchange, Ms Payne noted, but added that the “The new Centre, with substantially increased funding and resources, will have an expanded remit in supporting greater business and diaspora engagement.”
Australia announced further measures towards increased economic engagement. Dan Tehan, Australia’s Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, provided details at the launch of the Update to the India Economic Strategy to 2035. The announcements include $16.6 million to strengthen linkages with India’s key policy and finance institutions, and $8.9 million to support enhanced business engagement with an increased Austrade presence in India. He said while making the announcement, “Austrade will be setting up an office in Bengaluru, and that will mean that we have the same diplomatic footprint in India that we currently have with China. And it’s only one less than what we have with the United States.”
Security and defence
The virtual meet also announced the establishment of the General Rawat India-Australia Young Defence Officer Exchange Program. The two sides also agreed to enhance maritime information‑sharing and maritime domain awareness. They also agreed to share information and coordinate on counter-terrorism efforts bilaterally, and on multilateral platforms.
Science, Tech, and Space Cooperation
Among other announcements were the extension of the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund (AISRF) – a pillar of collaboration on science, technology, and research; a new Australia-India Innovation Network, and the establishment of the Centre of Excellence for Critical and Emerging Technology Policy in Bengaluru.
In space cooperation, Prime Minister Morrison announced a dedicated India stream of the Australian Space Agency’s International Space Investment initiative.
Melissa Price, Australia’s Minister for Science and Technology, provided more details. “$42 million (will be invested) in a series of space, science, and technology initiatives with India to generate opportunities for Australian businesses and researchers to grow and create jobs. This includes more than $25 million for Australian businesses and researchers to tap into India’s burgeoning space industry, $9.5 million for an Australia-India Innovation and Technology Challenge led by CSIRO, and $7.8 million to secure the ongoing AISRF.
She added, “India’s space program is one of the fastest-growing in the world, expected to grow by US$43 billion to 2025. We want Australian space businesses to be part of that, so they can expand and create jobs at home. Likewise, we want our researchers and innovators to be able to fast-track their work into real-world outcomes – and working with India presents a fantastic opportunity to do just that.”
Also announced was the renewal of the Australia India Memorandum of Understanding on Tourism Cooperation. No resolution was however reached on the issue of taxation of offshore income of Indian firms under the India-Australia Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA).
With some reports from IANS
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