India’s emergence is very significant. India has a prominence in our thinking, more than what it was 15 years ago. PATRICK SUCKLING, AUSTRALIAN HIGH COMMISSIONER Agriculture, water management and logistics are areas in which we could engage more with India. DAVID HOLLY, AUSTRALIA’S CONSUL GENERAL IN CHENNAI

Australia is keen to assist India in fostering continued growth, says Patrick Suckling, the new Australian High Commissioner. As India looks to build cities and roads, Australia wants to chip in with its technology and expertise in managing resources and designing urban infrastructure, says the diplomat, who was in Chennai recently to address the Indo-Australian Chamber of Commerce.

Suckling, who holds a post-graduate diploma in Hindi from the University of Sydney, spoke to Business Line on a range of issues — investments in renewable energy, nuclear policy and student safety in Australia. He was joined by David Holly, Australia’s Consul General in Chennai. Excerpts from the interview;

What is Australia’s stand on exporting uranium to India currently?

Suckling: Our Prime Minister came to India last October and signalled Australia’s preparedness to change its policy on exporting uranium to India, subject to us agreeing to a nuclear bilateral safeguards agreement. It is important that any uranium exported is used for peaceful purposes and has the oversight of the International Atomic Energy Agency. We are working with the Indian Government to negotiate an agreement that will give us assurances and a level of comfort. A team from Australia is to have the first of a series of discussions. There is no time-frame as such for this. It also depends on whether India wants to buy uranium from Australia or other countries.

There have been a few high-profile Indian investments and acquisitions in Australia such as Lanco and the GVK group. What are the other big investments and interests in Australia?

Suckling: There is the Adani group. Mahindra is looking at Australia. Tatas have been here for a long time. Infosys is also active in Australia.

Holly: Mahindra & Mahindra is interested in aerospace. An Indian-designed aircraft is being made in Australia based on an investment in a company called Gipps Aero. There are 26 Indian IT companies in Australia. Indian companies are helping build the national broadband network. State Bank of India ATMs run on Australian technology through an investment by TCS in Australia.

What about Australian companies investing in India?

Holly: The largest employer is Australia New Zealand Bank with 6,000 employees in Bangalore. Leighton is building the Ramanujam IT SEZ in OMR, Chennai. There is Toll, a huge logistics company with its headquarters in Chennai. Australia’s strengths are in mining, education, vocational sectors — in particular, agriculture, water management and logistics. We could engage more with India in these areas.

Suckling: Mining companies such as Thiess and BHP are involved in India. Business is being done here, notwithstanding the challenges in India.

Where does India stand as a trading partner?

Suckling: India is our fourth largest export partner and the eighth largest trading partner. Looking at India’s resource needs — coal, iron ore — the trajectory for growth in our trade is huge.

Holly: In 2005, India was our 15{+t}{+h} largest trading partner. There has been a doubling of growth. There is an overall impatience in looking at the next level.

How will a free trade agreement, which is in the works, boost investments and trade?

Suckling: Australia always looks for high-quality comprehensive free trade agreements to capture as much as it can. An FTA allows a lot more activity and a lot more diverse goods to flow into India with much lower tariffs and vice-versa. We are discussing what each country thinks the goods offered should be, what services we envisage, what kinds of tariffs need to come, and the scope of it all.

Is Australia keen to explore the non-traditional industries?

Suckling: Both countries have expressed nascent interest in investments in renewable energy (solar and wind power). There is also interest in bio-technology, urban design and water. India is building several new cities.

The Delhi-Mumbai corridor is interesting to develop technology for. India is facing a water crisis and we have technology for water management. We are looking at a couple of water basins in India to apply this technology. It is a $19-million joint project.

Is India central to Australia’s Asian gameplan today?

Suckling: There is a lot of dynamism in the Asian region. Particularly, India’s emergence is very significant. India has a prominence in our thinking, more than what it was 15 years ago. We are interested in working with the country in building the right institutions and architecture to foster continued prosperity.

How about students’ safety at Australian universities which was a big issue a few years ago?

Suckling: There has been no incident since 2010. This is not to say it won’t happen again. But we now have a strong law enforcement initiative and more policing in Victoria and New South Wales, in particular. We have closed down Mickey Mouse (fly-by-night) colleges. There is investigation and criminal prosecution of offenders. Universities have been active in providing more advisory and mentoring services to international students.

Holly: We are now focused on quality institutions with quality students so that they feel safer on campus. We are not looking to offer access to vocational training in Australia. But we are in ministerial dialogue to assist India in certification, skills training and capacity building.

(This article was published on March 21, 2013)
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