Alternate to Belt and Road Initiative does not exclude other countries: Australian envoy on India
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Alternate to Belt and Road Initiative does not exclude other countries: Australian envoy on India

Australian envoy Harinder Sidhu said United States, Australia and Japan ‘have a long tradition of strategic cooperation’ and the alternate to China’s Belt and Road Initiative is just one among them.

world Updated: Aug 10, 2018 00:20 IST
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri
Pramit Pal Chaudhuri
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Belt and Road Initiative,Australia,India
Former Australian envoy Peter Varghese identified 10 sectors with the most potential for cooperation with India, with education topping the list. Australia had 68,000 Indian students taking courses Down Under last year.(HT/Photo for representation)

Attempts by the United States, Japan and Australia to create an alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative emerged from a trilateral discussion, Australian envoy Harinder Sidhu said when asked why India was not part of the combination.

“The US, Japan and Australia have a long tradition of strategic cooperation and this is just one of many trilateral engagements that they have,” she said. “It does not necessarily exclude or include other countries.”

She noted that other allies, such as South Korea and Singapore, too weren’t part of the grouping. Sidhu spoke during the release on Wednesday of “An India Economic Strategy to 2035”, a report commissioned by Canberra and written by former Australian envoy Peter Varghese.

Along with 90 specific policy recommendations, the report sets three broad goals. One, no market offers greater potential to Australia over the next 20 years than India. Australia should make India its third largest trading partner by then.

Two, the report calls for a large increase in Australian direct investment in India. It cites a target of $100 billion and making India the third largest recipient of Australian investment. Finally, it says India should be brought into the inner circle of Australia’s strategic partners.

Varghese identified 10 economic sectors with the most potential, with education topping the list. Sidhu noted it was already Australia’s single largest service export to India. Australia had 68,000 Indian students taking courses Down Under last year.

But goods exports remained largely raw materials. Varghese noted India’s economic rise will be different from what Australia had experienced with Southeast Asia and China, with technology playing a greater role in the Indian growth story. The report says Canberra needs to work directly with Indian states and lists 10 priority states.

Sidhu described reports in Australian media that Canberra had deliberately downplayed the report because of its blunt description of China as a strategic concern for both countries as “misleading”. She noted the report was “to, not by, the Australian government” and Canberra is in the process of reviewing the recommendations.

“There will be slow rollout of the report, including two weeks of presentations to all the state capitals in Australia,” she said. The true impact will lie in “implementation”, not the “degree of splash” regarding its launch, she said.

Stronger trade ties will be central to realising the potential of bilateral economic relations. Sidhu noted there is a strong correlation between the amount of Australian investment in a country and the amount of trade. India represents less than 7% of Australia’s external trade.

“But things have improved,” she said. “Two years ago, our trade with China was 10 times what we had with India. Today, that’s down to seven times.”

Canberra continues to hope for the completion of a “robust” free trade agreement with India. She was mildly critical of India’s lack of focus on Australia, noting “we can’t be doing all the pushing” but expressed pleasure that the Confederation of Indian Industries has said it will “coordinate” to publicise the report across India.

First Published: Aug 10, 2018 00:20 IST