Turnbull to seek closer ties with India

Malcolm Turnbull

It is said that the intimacy of a relationship is the product of time spent with someone and compatibility with them.

Malcolm Turnbull, the Prime Minister of Australia, hopes a day of one-on-one time with the leader of the world’s fastest-growing economy will take Australia’s relationship with India to the next level.

And the prime minister hopes his first official visit to the subcontinent will give a big push to the growing business ties between the nations.

The two countries appear to be highly compatible with many common values as stable democracies that are part of the commonwealth.

He met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the sidelines of the 2015 and 2016 G20 summits and now they’ll get some serious face time in New Delhi.

“What a remarkable story India presents,” Mr Turnbull said as he left Papua New Guinea on Sunday bound for the “giant, vibrant democracy”.

“This is one of the great achievements of our times.”

Mr Turnbull was all praise for Mr Modi ahead of his journey, saying his counterpart is determined to super-charge India’s growth into the 21st century.

India used to lament its low rate of growth compared to China, but thanks to the enterprise and energy of its people that’s no longer the case.

“India is showing it can grow at a rapid rate and that is offering enormous opportunities for Australia,” he said.

Talks are expected to encompass the political relationship, trade, strategic ties, international security issues, science and innovation, and energy.

India is Australia’s fifth largest trading partner, with two-way trade worth $19 billion in 2015/16, but there is significant scope to expand.

Legislation clearing the way for uranium exports to India passed parliament at the end of 2016 and it’s anticipated things will now move quickly on that front.

However, it’s unlikely a bilateral trade deal will be sealed during Mr Turnbull’s visit as talks have largely stalled since mid-2016.

Last September, Trade Minister Steve Ciobo said Australia was doing a “stocktake” of the deal the coalition has strongly focused on for several years.

A major sticking point for the Indians is labour mobility.

They’d like to see Australia ease restrictions on foreign workers, particularly in IT services, in exchange for opening up agricultural markets.

But more than goods, India wants “Australian brains” exported to it – technology, ways to boost agricultural productivity, logistics management, and education services.

Mr Turnbull’s visit coincides with a university and training sector delegation led by Education Minister Simon Birmingham.

Australia views India’s growing economic clout – it’s on track to be the world’s third largest economy by 2030 – as also translating into a bigger strategic reach.

Mr Modi is looking for new strategic partners to take India beyond its involvement in the Non-Aligned Movement.

Australia sees this as an opportunity to not just refresh the relationship but take it to an even deeper level.

There is anticipation on both sides a closer relationship that also draws on common values with South Africa – on the third corner of the Indian Ocean triangle – could lead to a strong geopolitical bloc.

Mr Turnbull’s time in New Delhi is attracting all the trappings of an official state visit, including a ceremonial welcome at the presidential palace, wreath-laying at Gandhi’s memorial and a state banquet.

In India’s commercial heart of Mumbai, he will focus on corporate ties, meeting with business groups.

It’s anticipated those meetings will include a catch-up with Adani, which is seeking to build Australia’s largest coal mine in Queensland.

The $21.7 billion Carmichael project was approved in December but has faced serious opposition from environmental groups.

The federal government is considering a bid from Adani for a $1 billion concessional loan from its Northern Australia infrastructure fund to help build a rail line servicing the mine.

Mr Turnbull told reporters in PNG he and Mr Modi will be talking about the importance of energy exports to India.

Australian coal has a very big role to play in India’s plan to expand power across the country, he said.