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Anil Wadhwa-led Australia Strategy initiates Jugalbandi with Peter Varghese’s India Strategy

The much-awaited India’s Australia Strategy led by former Indian diplomat and Secretary (East) Anil Wadhwa is released. Commissioned by the Confederation of Indian Industries, in conjunction with KPMG and the Ministry of External Affairs, the Australia strategy was launched on December 18 in New Delhi. Speaking at the launch of the strategy report entitled, “Enhancing India Australia Bilateral Economic and Trade Relationship”, Piyush Goyal, Minister of Commerce & Industry and Railways, Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution said, “India’s opening up of engagement and activities with Australia is a great morale booster for the entire world, especially during the current crisis.” The report is expected to complement the Peter Varghese led “An India Economic Strategy to 2035: Navigating from potential to Delivery” launched in November 2018. The Wadhwa report comes at a critical time when both sides have been grappling with tensions with China and desperately looking for alternative ways for not only bolstering business and trade ties but also ensuring a safer Indo-Pacific.

Compartmentalised into seven broad chapters the report is expected to boost India’s business and trade engagements in gems and jewellery, pharmaceuticals, auto and spare parts, healthcare, agribusiness, apart from the mining and resources sector. It is also expected that the new strategy will deepen collaborations in space, defence and education and emphasises on the diversification of supply chains for managing the current transitions in global value chains. What is interesting is that the report recommends integrating Micro Small and Medium Enterprises of other countries into the global value chain to insulate global trade from disruptions as witnessed in the wake of Covid-19 outbreak. Minister Goyal noted that “India can provide a core pathway for linking supply chains and provide trusted and reliable suppliers to the world”.

It should not be lost to the readers that both reports have been led by two remarkable diplomats who have shaped diplomatic, trade and business engagements during their illustrious careers and are also masters of global politics. They understand the pulse of global trade and diplomacy and have an acute sense of timing and delivery. Their rich experiences have informed the two incisive strategies which auger well for companies, traders, agriculturists, entrepreneurs, educationists among others in opening up new vistas of trade, supplies, research and development and investments opportunities.

At the launch of the report a buoyant Simon Birmingham, former Australian Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment observed that the new strategy will bolster exchanges in technology and cybersecurity, Artificial Intelligence, quantum computing and robotics and waste management and thereby catapult the “comprehensive strategic partnership into an upward bilateral and trade trajectory with India”. He had led a trade delegation to New Delhi in February, before the lock down, and as tensions grew with China he said, “Australia must look into alternative markets in the European Union and India.” The report assumes greater salience as Australian looks to diversify businesses from China.

The historic virtual summit on 4 June between the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Prime Minister Narendra Modi proved a shot in the arm for the Strategic Partnership, now upgraded as “comprehensive”. Both sides have formalised over 20 MoU last June covering some of these areas during the Modi-Morrison virtual summit. Their two-way trade has risen from $13.6 billion to $30.4 billion in 2018, but it is still below their full potential. By 2035, both sides aim to double their bilateral trade and Australia seeks to bring India in its top 5 trading partners (currently 8th).

Ambassador Anil Wadhwa has very aptly provided the context for the report saying, “Changed geo-political relations offer some great opportunities for both countries.” But there should be no doubt that the two reports provide only the board road map and since bulk of the recommendations in both reports are based upon the pre- COVID-19 geopolitical and global settings, some recalibration and adjustments will be required on both front across several sectors. There is much to be achieved in terms of ironing out differences over Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, but the finalisation of the two strategies is a potent symbol of prevailing mutual understanding for taking bilateral ties into a higher orbit. Rapidly altering geopolitical realities are only making it more urgent.