Bilateral ties between India and Australia have been improving, with cooperation in the economic trade and geopolitical arena reaching historic levels. While India-Australia trade stands at over $48 billion and is expected to double to nearly $100 billion in the next five years, the two countries have forged a strategic partnership with a view to ensure security of the Indo-Pacific region through the Quad alliance. businessline met Philip Green, the High Commissioner of Australia to India, to understand the path forward for scaling up business between the two countries. 


How do you view the current strategic partnership with India?

We are at the highest point that our bilateral relationship has ever been. And my job is to drive that forward as fast and as hard as I can. 

There are three underlying drivers that propel our bilateral relationship. The first is strategic alignment. Australia and India have been friends for a long time. But we now have a situation where we are both focused on peace and stability in our region, the Indo-Pacific, and are prepared to work together in the Quad and bilaterally to strengthen that. That’s a game changer for our bilateral relations. Second thing is on the economic side, your economy is going very fast. There wouldn’t be an economy in the world that didn’t take notice of the fifth biggest economy in the world thats growing at 8 per cent per annum, but for Australia, it’s special, because you’re a country in which we have a strategic alignment. There’s a very high level of complementarity between our companies. So many of the things that India needs to grow in the next generation of its development are things which can be sourced from Australia. And then the third is what we call human reach. There are 20 million people of Indian origin who have made Australia their home, and we take that very seriously. For example, we have created the Center for Australia India relations, with multimillion Australian dollar funding, run by two distinguished Australians of Indian origin. And their top priority is to drive stronger commercial links between Australia and India, engaging the Australian diaspora.


What more can be done to further enhance trade and investment between the two countries?

The first thing is that as governments we need to conclude the second part about free trade agreement.  As you know, we have the ECTA agreement in place and that is doing great things for our trade.

The job is only half done and we are keen to conclude a comprehensive trade agreement. Your trade negotiators have been busy with our friends in the UK and that’s fine. But we are keen to re-engage after India’s election and bring this deal to conclusion. For instance, there are huge possibilities in the green energy supply chain. Australia has a high quality deposit of critical minerals, polysilicon, which is the fundamental ingredient for solar panels. We also see big opportunities in fields such as tourism, in agriculture, where we think we have the technology to offer Indian farmers. And that’s a big part of my time here. I’ve met the Chairmen of some of the biggest business houses, including Hindujas, Mahindra, Tatas and JSW to drive through this investment faster than we have.


What is the nature of your discussions with Indian corporates

Green energy supply chain is a big prospective area. Critical minerals for battery storage will also be crucial. We have a big deposit of magnetite, which is what you need for green steel. Tourism is another area. I’m promoting more direct air links between Australia and India. The people-to-people links between Australia and India and Australia and China are broadly the same. But there are four times more direct air services between Australia and China. So we will see more air services between Australia and India. There is also a focus on skills, and there is already a positive history in terms of Indian students coming to Australia. But it should be a two-way street. We are now encouraging Australian universities to take advantage of the opportunity that the Indian Government has allowed for opening campuses in India. Nearly 1,000 top universities around the world were invited to come to GIFT city and open a campus. Only two have done that and both of them are from Australia and they won’t be the last. In addition to the university segment, everyone tells me here that as India goes through its growth phase, it’s going to need more skills of the technical and vocational kind. Last week we had a delegation in India who are providers of skills in a technical field, who are also keen to get engaged in the Indian market.


What is the biggest challenge for you in India?

Without question, the biggest challenge is for Australia to remain front of mind for India. Your country is becoming a leading player in global affairs. And there are more than 200 countries on earth. Virtually all of them would want to have a closer relationship with India. Including a relationship of the intimate kind that we have got. So we have to pedal hard to keep ourselves at the front of the pack. And my predecessors have got us to the front of the pack, and my role is to ensure that we stay there.


What are your expectations from the new government after elections

I think that the three underlying drivers that I spoke about; the strategic alignment, economic complementarity and human reach, those are underlying drivers that will be there irrespective of the nature of government in India. So I’m very confident that whatever be the result of the election, the partnership between India and Australia will grow and flourish. 


Recent tweaks in student visa rules seems to have led to a spike in student visa rejections. Will this impact people-people movement between India and Australia

It won’t get in the way of strong people-to-people movement. I expect more students to come from India to Australia. What the Australian government is trying to do is to focus on quality and ensure that the intermediaries provide genuine opportunities for high quality Indian students seeking a high quality education in Australia. Some of the talk about rejection rates is exaggerated. I’ve looked at these myself and the situation is the same as it was last year. But the reality is that there are limits in Australia in terms of the number of students from any country. There will be a pivot towards providing quality education in India, even as we see a a solid flow of Indian students to Australia.


When do you see the CEPA agreement being finalised?

I’m always ambitious and so I would like it to be resolved this year. And I’m hopeful that after the elections are over, we will be able to bring this to a conclusion.


Most Indian companies are not aware of these opportunities for collaboration. How do you change that equation?

By being realistic and saying that we’re growing up in this relationship, but in some ways, we’re just started. I agree there isn’t enough close chemistry between Indian and Australian businesses. We recognise that and we want to change it. That’s why we are spending 200 million Australian dollars on improving the business and commercial mix between Australia and India. A big part of that is for the Australia-India Business Exchange (AIBX), which has been designed to bring delegations from one to the other and to expose each other’s business strengths.

I am engaging with Indian business majors and drawing their attention to opportunities in Australia. And finally, and this is most important, I am going around the country deliberately encouraging Indian business majors to come to Australia for cricket because this summer is the key test series between India and Australia. If there was ever a time for Indian business to come and take a look at the opportunities in Australia then it is this summer.


Have you got any firm commitments from Indian companies ?

The level of interest is high. There have been some deals that have already been signed in the last six months, but the bigger opportunities are further down the track. 


So the target of scaling up bilateral trade of $100 billion in five years can be achieved?

I am comfortable with that target. My role is to engage with individual companies on individual prospects to drive these investments.