India’s relationship with Australia is strengthening as it is based on the foundation of shared democratic values, mutual trust and strong people-to-people ties

India’s relationship with Australia is strengthening as it is based on the foundation of shared democratic values, mutual trust and strong people-to-people ties

Last month, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese landed in India on a four-day visit from March 8 to 11. His itinerary included Ahmedabad, Mumbai, and New Delhi. However, during his India visit, it was the Ahmedabad trip, which remained in good stead for the Australian PM as it helped him in presenting an effective and useful public messaging through cricket diplomacy and Holi celebrations.

The meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in New Delhi on 10 March 2023 was 1st Annual Summit that has been initiated from this year. Such regular Summit level meetings at Prime Ministers level will help in future in reaffirming the strength of the multifaceted bilateral ties between both countries that have deepened under the India-Australia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership established in June 2020.

Turnaround in India-Australia relations

Narendra Modi’s visit to Australia in November 2014, first by an Indian Prime Minister in 28 years, infused fresh life in the bilateral relation of New Delhi and Canberra. During his Australia visit, Prime Minister Modi had also addressed a joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament, thereby becoming the first Indian leader to do so. It would be pertinent to note that prior to PM Modi’s Australia’s visit, then Prime Minister Tony Abbott visited India on September 4-5, 2014

In substance, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit started a new chapter in the India-Australia bilateral relations and since then there has been no stopping. Regular visits at high-level has resulted in strengthening the partnership. In the last 9 years, India-Australia relations have transformed into a reliable and promising strategic partnership.

The present-day government in Australia under the leadership of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese enlists New Delhi in its first priority ring of partnership in a values-based Indo-Pacific coalition which is primarily aimed at balancing China’s rise in the Indo-Pacific with more clearer objectives as outlined in Australia’s recent policy objectives in Indo-Pacific.

India and Australia share a common strategic perception which has over time paved the way for deepening the strategic partnership, leading to a robust security arrangement especially in maritime domain. The Indo-Australian strategic convergence has largely been conditioned by the paramount role adopted by both nations within the Indo-Pacific region especially in the context of the rise of China in many small island countries in the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean.

The non-state regional security challenges, including terrorism, Indian Ocean maritime security, piracy, drug trafficking and ASEAN centrality serves as core security interests for both countries along with counter-balancing China’s penetration in the region through Belt and Road initiative (BRI).

India and Australia have common concerns and people-to-people ties are growing day by day. The growing Indian diaspora in Australia has been a pillar of strength in furthering the people to people connect.

Most of the Indian students and skilled workers now call Australia as their second home. India and Australia have made great strides in strengthening education ties over the past decade. There are some concerns also like the recent issues of attacks on many temples in Australia which was emphatically raised by Indian leadership with his Australian counterpart and that was sensitively acknowledged by the Australian side also resulting in an assurance of security.

Defence ties

India and Australia held their first two plus two Defence and Foreign ministerial dialogue in September 2021. This helped in further ramping up the overall defence and strategic cooperation between the two countries, including in the Indo-Pacific region.

The growing defence cooperation through naval exercises like Malabar, AUSINDEX etc. has helped in increasing the interoperability between the respective forces.

The implementation of the India-Australia Mutual Logistics Support Arrangement will also help in enhancing Maritime Domain Awareness in the Indian Ocean region along with consolidating the mutual access between the navies of India and Australia and thereby, increasing defence and security information sharing because it will further deepen the defence cooperation at operational level between both countries in the Indo-Pacific region.

Bilateral economic and trade relationship

The India-Australia economic relationship has grown significantly in recent years. India’s growing economic profile and commercial relevance to the Australian economy is recognized, both at the Federal and State level in Australia.

As part of its efforts to develop a strong economic relationship with India, the Australian Government commissioned the India Economic Strategy to 2035 to define a pathway for Australia to unlock opportunities offered by Indian Economic growth. The paper was released in July 2018. An update to the India Economic Strategy was released in April 2022.

India is 9th largest trading partner of Australia. During 2021, Bilateral trade in goods and services with India was US$ 27.5 billion, with exports of goods and services worth US$ 10.5 billion and imports of goods and services worth US$ 17 billion; balance of trade is in favour of Australia by US$ 6.5 billion.

India’s merchandise exports to Australia grew 135% between 2019 and 2021. India’s main exports to Australia are refined petroleum, medicaments, pearls & gems, jewellery, made-up textile articles, women's clothing, other textile clothing, manufactures of base metal, while India's major imports are coal, confidential items of trade, copper ores & concentrates, natural gas, non-ferrous waste & scrap, ferrous waste & scrap and education related services.

The signing and ratification of the landmark India-Australia Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA) last year has provided significant opportunities to diversify and expand two-way trade.

***The author is working as a Senior Research Fellow with India Foundation, New Delhi.