• Transcript, E&OE
Topics: Australia-India trade relationship; Australia India Business Exchange.
24 February 2020

Journalist: Joining us from India is Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister, Simon Birmingham. Welcome to SBS Radio.

Simon Birmingham: It’s wonderful to be with you. Thank you.

Journalist: India’s economy is predicted to be the third largest in the world by 2035. The two-way trade between Australia and India though sits at merely 30 billion. What is Australia doing to tap into this market?

Simon Birmingham: Australia sees India as an incredibly valued partner in a whole range of ways, including of course the opportunity to enhance economic and trade ties. Our government commissioned a comprehensive strategy, the India Economic Strategy several years ago and responded to that in detail in 2018, showing a number of ways that we can grow the trade and economic relationship and enhance business as well as cultural and people to people ties. And what I’m doing this week is delivering on part of those recommendations with the Australia India Business Exchange, more than one hundred business representatives from Australia participating here in India across a whole sphere of different categories of economic exchange between Australia and India, be that resources, education, infrastructure, tourism, financial opportunities. We really are pursuing the diversity of the Indian economy and stepping up in a carefully considered and strategic way to make sure that Australia and India continue to grow those trade ties.

Journalist: You’re going to be spending four days, the next four days in India. Take us through what is planned over the next four days.

Simon Birmingham: Well the AIBX, the Australia India Business Exchange is fanning out across six different Indian cities and within that we have different outreach programs for each of the different industry sectors. And so- and what’s critical there is that whether it’s agri business or education providers, resources companies, tourism industry, healthcare, energy, financial services, in all of those sectors we are seeking to ensure that Australian businesses are hooking up with their Indian counterparts, that they’re able to develop deeper relations. And from my perspective, I’ll be supporting those different business activities where I can, visiting several different Indian cities, but also, importantly, engaging with Indian government officials as well to make sure that at the government to government level we maintain the type of momentum for deeper ties and stronger relations that has been built so successfully in recent years.

Journalist: Minister, in the wake of coronavirus outbreak, and we don’t know how long it will go on, what opportunities does India present for Australia?

Simon Birmingham: Well India has presented huge opportunities for Australia over recent years. Its economy since the year 2000 has grown seven-fold and that presents massive opportunities, and of course that growth is forecast to continue with India projected to potentially become the third largest economy in the world. That, with the size of population, that presents opportunities for Australia as investors in India and we’ve seen that with Australian superannuation funds stepping up in a big way, with our infrastructure investors such as Macquarie – Macquarie coming into the Indian market in a large way in terms of road infrastructure. We see, of course, existing huge ties in terms of education market and that again is about Australia helping India to fulfil its potential in terms of skilling and training Indian workers of the future in what is required to keep growing the Indian economy and through that, to lift more Indians out of poverty, to create higher standards of living across India. And as you see that middle class grow and the affluence grow in India, then there is potential for premium produce be that food, wine, tourism opportunities that are crucial there in terms of ensuring that Australian businesses can provide the type of goods, services and experiences that India wants as that growth continues.

Journalist: My last question – have we made any progress with signing a free trade agreement with India?

Simon Birmingham: I’ll be meeting with my counterpart, the Indian Trade Minister, Minister Goyal later today. And look, what I’m really excited about doing there is making sure that we continue to pursue all aspects of the trade relationship – delivery of our India Economic Strategy. Seeing India fulfil the Australian economic strategy that it’s promised to deliver, but also hopefully pursuing trade opportunities if we can, still as part of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement that brings nations of this region together and continuing under the umbrella of that to pursue bilateral ties between Australia and India in terms of opportunities for better trade access in the future.

Journalist: Joining Minister Birmingham on this visit is the National Chair of the Australia India Business Council Mr Jim Varghese. Mr Varghese, what role is AIBC playing in leveraging the India opportunity for Australian businesses?

Jim Varghese:  So the role of the Australia India Business Council is to promote the bilateral trade and investment relationship between India and Australia, and we are over 33 years old. We were established by the Prime Minister of India and the Prime Minister of Australia, and through our network of state chapters and territory chapters, we’re able to really drive a value adding proposition for business to business in all the key areas of education, of resources, tourism, agri business, information technology and health.

Journalist: Australia wants to make India one of its top three export markets; India currently ranks fifth on the list. What are some of the immediate steps it can take to achieve this goal?

Jim Varghese: Well I think the immediate steps to achieve these goals is to identify the key areas which we should concentrate on and this has been very comprehensively laid out the Peter Varghese report which is Australia Economic Strategy To 2035 and the Australia India Business Council uses that report as one of our compasses to work with. And we’re also awaiting the report of Ambassador Wadhwa in terms of the Indian response to that, which is due for formal approval by the Prime Minister of India in the near future. We have had extensive discussions with Ambassador Wadhwa and we have managed to put our own Australia India strategy which will support both the Peter Varghese strategy and the Ambassador Wadwha strategy and it concentrates on the key areas from education to health, to IT, to agri businesss, to resources, to mechs(*), to tourism. But it also will look at key areas and states in India that we should concentrate on. The Australia India Business Council is keen to establish an Australia India trade index and we have put a proposal up to the Australian Government and the purpose of the trade index is to publish once a quarter, what is the state of play with investment by state in India in terms of Australian sectors. And the same in Australia, what is the Indian trade and investment by state and by industry grouping. And we think if we were able to establish this Australia India trade index, it would add another more sophisticated tool, encourage and nurture the trade and investment between Australia and India.

Journalist: Thank you so much for joining us today Mr Varghese.

Jim Varghese: Thank you.