by Krishna Kaushik and Kirsty Needham
NEW DELHI/SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese arrived in India on Wednesday, seeking to cement new momentum in ties through deeper trade, investment and defense ties between the two countries.
Albanese’s three-day visit, the first by an Australian prime minister since 2017, comes days ahead of the visit of Japanese PM Fumio Kishida, another member of the so-called Quad grouping that seeks to counter China’s growing dominance in India Are. Pacific region.
The Quad includes the US and India apart from Australia and Japan. Australia is scheduled to host the Quad leaders’ summit in Sydney later this year.
“India and Australia share warm and friendly relations based on common values and democratic principles. The Strategic Partnership between the two countries was upgraded to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in June 2020,” the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement ahead of the visit.
“The visit of Prime Minister Albanese is expected to add further momentum to the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.”
Speaking in Sydney on Tuesday, Albanese said Australia wanted “more diversity in who we trade with – and more diversity in the trade we do, which means our economy is more resilient and more secure”.
The two countries last year signed a free trade agreement called the Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA), the first agreement signed by India with a developed country in a decade.
This has resulted in an immediate reduction in duty to zero on 96% of Indian exports to Australia in value and zero duty on 85% of Australia’s exports to India.
However, a much larger Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement has been stuck in negotiations for over a decade. Discussions began in 2011 but were postponed in 2016 as talks were deadlocked.
Talks resumed in 2021 but a deal has so far proved elusive. Australian Trade and Tourism Minister Dawn Farrell is part of Albanese’s delegation and the visit is expected to provide an opportunity to accelerate the ambitious deal.
Bilateral trade was $27.5 billion in 2021 and India says it has the potential to nearly double to $50 billion in five years under the ECTA.
Albanese began his visit to the western city of Ahmedabad in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat, where the two leaders will do some cricket diplomacy by watching the inauguration of the stadium named after the fourth and final cricket Test match between the two countries. Modi.
He will then fly to Mumbai where he will become the first foreign leader to board India’s indigenously built aircraft carrier INS Vikrant on Thursday. The aircraft carrier was commissioned into the Indian Navy in September.
The Albany-Modi talks in New Delhi on Friday will be the first meeting of the annual summit announced by the two countries last year.
India’s former High Commissioner to Australia Navdeep Suri said trade, investment, defence, education and supply chain of vital minerals are important aspects of the relationship between the two countries.
The business delegation traveling with Albanese will participate in the Australia-India CEO Forum, which Suri described as encouraging.
“This is not just about a free-trade agreement, but also about investment. I believe Australian companies have been reluctant to invest in India. The same is true for Australian superannuation funds,” They said.
Suri said ties were important in the context of the Quad as well.
Last week, Quad foreign ministers met in Delhi and condemned rising tensions in the South and East China Seas and the militarization of disputed areas in the region, without naming China.
For the first time, the four Quad Navies are set to come together in August for the annual Malabar naval exercise to be hosted by Australia.
“Quad is now emerging as an important voice to counter the threat that we perceive,” Suri said. “If we are to reduce our dependence and the world’s dependence on China…working together is vital.”
(Reporting by Krishna Kaushik in New Delhi and Kirsty Needham in Sydney; Editing by YP Rajesh and Sharon Singleton)