Fast-emerging friendship

Fast-emerging friendship

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s visit to India has a strategic depth and an impersonal touch. His welcome was immersed in the colours of Holi, an Indian festival that unites even the rivals, and was accompanied by a hope of speedy finalisation of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) that will take the bilateral trade relations between the two nations to a new height. The intricacies of military and trade-related talks were blended with the delicacies of a cricketing taste, as the nation heads stole away a memorable morning to relish the fourth Test of the famous Border-Gavaskar Trophy. However, the two countries, conventionally united by the thread of ‘commonwealth, cricket and curry’, have come a long way in forging comprehensive bilateral ties, at a faster-than-ever rate. A decade ago, no one would have thought that the two countries hanging on to opposite poles at the height of the Cold War would come so close, so fast. One would argue that it is the belligerence of China in the Indo-Pacific region that has brought India, Australia and other Quad members together. While this is an irrefutable argument, one has to also factor in the relentless efforts that India has been putting in over the last decade to bolster its bilateral ties with like-minded countries. Strong bilateral relations with Australia have been a shining example of this endeavour. In June 2020, the two countries saw their Strategic Partnership elevating to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. Quite recently, late in December last year, India and Australia enforced the Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA). Now the two countries are looking forward to materialising the much-awaited Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement this year, though some challenges remain on this front. Today, India is Australia’s sixth largest trading partner and, as Australia seeks to diversify its trade under China plus one strategy, there are plenty of chances for stronger collaboration. The template for India-Australia relations was set way back in 2011 after India signed a nuclear deal with the United States. Since then, there has been no turning back for both nations. A profound potential for strong trade and bilateral relations was waiting to be tapped. Utilising that potential has been an ongoing process. The visit of the Australian delegation led by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will provide further acceleration to this process. Albanese pointed out that his visit to India reflected his government’s “commitment to place India at the heart of Australia’s approach to the Indo-Pacific and beyond.” Credit to its active diplomacy, India’s relevance in the Indo-Pacific region has come to assume great significance. The level of military engagement between India and Australia is attaining remarkable heights. Terming the Australia-India General Rawat Defence Officer Exchange Programme to be ‘pioneering’, Albanese posed confidence that it will ensure that their “defence personnel develop the familiarity and trust that underpins a close and long-lasting relationship.” In 2022, India and Australia carried out unprecedented levels of joint exercises including Austrahind, and the Australian PM predicted that “2023 will be busier than ever for our defence cooperation.” Evidently, Australia also aims to retain its dominance as a rich mineral supplier. India, along with Japan and the Republic of Korea, forms a major market cluster for Australian minerals. The most important priority for India and Australia, however, remains the finalisation of CECA. Australia’s Minister for Trade and Tourism, Don Farrell, has expressed confidence that the deal will be reached this year. Regarding India’s concerns on this front, particularly in the dairy sector, Farrell spoke to Businessline recently, saying that “with a bit of respect on both sides and a bit of understanding, we can get there and work through those problems.” Unfortunately, India and Australia realised quite late the true potential of their bilateral relations. But luckily, after arriving at the realisation, they are improving by leaps and bounds. As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Australia to attend the Quad summit and Albanese will again come to India for the G20 summit in September, there are chances that bilateral ties will be further consolidated.

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