India, Australia seal new migration, mobility deal

By, New Delhi
May 25, 2023 12:12 AM IST

The two leaders held bilateral talks a day after participating in an Indian diaspora event at Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena

India and Australia on Wednesday signed a migration and mobility pact to open up opportunities for students and businesspeople as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Anthony Albanese discussed ways to take forward cooperation in key areas such as critical minerals and renewable energy.

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The two leaders, who met on the final day of Modi’s three-day visit to Australia, reiterated their commitment to concluding a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement (CECA) by the end of the year to build on an interim deal that took effect last December. The next two rounds of talks on CECA are scheduled for June and July.

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An Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA), or interim trade deal, which was concluded last year, and growing defence cooperation, have added heft to relations between the two Quad members.

During a media interaction, both Modi and Albanese noted they had met six times over the past year and said this reflects the strength of bilateral relations. Pointing to the depth in comprehensive relations and convergence in views, Modi said: “In the language of cricket, our ties have entered the T20 mode.”

The two leaders held bilateral talks a day after participating in an Indian diaspora event at Sydney’s Qudos Bank Arena, where the Indian leader said the deepening strategic ties between the two sides are rooted in “mutual trust and mutual respect”.

Modi and Albanese witnessed the signing of terms of reference for a Green Hydrogen Taskforce, which will comprise Australian and Indian experts and report to the ministerial energy dialogue on opportunities for cooperation in this key area of renewable energy.

They also discussed regional and global issues, particularly economic consequences of the Ukraine conflict, cooperation within Quad, maritime challenges in the Indo-Pacific, India and Australia’s engagement with Pacific Island states, potential cooperation to benefit the Global South, and reforms of UN bodies such as the Security Council.

The Migration and Mobility Partnership Agreement is aimed at promoting two-way exchange of students, graduates, researchers and businesspeople, and expanding people-to-people ties. Albanese told the joint media interaction that the pact will also enhance cooperation to prevent people smuggling.

In a reference to the role of the 750,000-strong Indian diaspora in Australia, Modi added: “This will further strengthen our living bridge.”

The agreement will allow 3,000 highly skilled Indians to come to Australia to work in areas such as information technology for a couple of years, and this will greatly benefit the country, Albanese said in an interview. The opening of campuses in India by Deakin University and Wollongong University will open opportunities for two-way movement by students. “This is a pretty big market... and it’s a real opportunity for Australian business,” he added.

Modi further said that CECA will help open new avenues for cooperation. “Last year, the India-Australia Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement came into effect. Today, we have decided to focus on the comprehensive economic cooperation agreement – this will further strengthen our economic partnership and open up new avenues for cooperation,” he said, speaking in Hindi.

“We’ve reiterated our shared ambition for an early conclusion of the Australia-India comprehensive economic cooperation agreement later this year,” said Albanese.

The Australian PM also stressed that said renewable energy was an important topic in the discussions, while Modi added that the two sides talked about ways to strengthen strategic cooperation in mining and critical minerals. “We identified concrete areas for the renewable energy sector,” he said.

Albanese announced the establishment of a new Australian consulate in Bengaluru to connect Australian businesses to India’s digital and innovation ecosystem, and welcomed India’s plans to set up a consulate in Brisbane. The consulate in Bengaluru will be Australia’s fifth diplomatic mission in India.

He also said the new Centre for Australia-India Relations has begun operations under its CEO Tim Thomas and will be based in the Sydney suburb of Parramatta. The centre will drive engagement through business, policy and cultural activities and work with the Indian diaspora.

Modi emphasised that the scope of India-Australia ties is not limited to the two countries as it is also “linked to regional stability, peace and global welfare”.

“India-Australia cooperation can be beneficial for the growth of the Global South also. The Indian tradition of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ that views the entire world as one family is the central theme of India’s G20 presidency,” he said.

Albanese said the leaders of Quad, which includes Japan and the US, stand together for an open, stable, secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region, where “sovereignty is respected, and all countries large and small benefit from a regional balance that keeps the peace”.

Foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra told a media briefing later that the talks between the two leaders built on key pillars of the relationship, such as trade, investment, technology, defence and security, tourism, education, renewable energy, migration and mobility, rare earths, people to people cooperation, and opening of new consulates in Bengaluru and Brisbane.

Kwatra said the leaders also discussed challenges to peace, prosperity and stability in region, and how two strategic partners to work together to harness opportunities and mitigate challenges.

Australia was the last leg of Modi’s three-nation tour that also took him to Japan, where he joined outreach sessions of the G7 Summit, and to Papua New Guinea for a summit with leaders of 14 Pacific Island states. Modi also met Australia’s governor general and leader of opposition, and participated in a business roundtable.

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