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AIBC Chair DipenRughani and vice-chair Sheba Nandkeolyar tell The Indian Sun how ‘Modi magic’ can help strengthen Aussie-Indian ties

The Australia India Business Council was set up in 1986, following recognition of the enormous trade potential between the countries by the Prime Ministers of the day, Bob Hawke of Australia and Rajiv Gandhi of India.

Now, 28 years after that visit, the organisation is gearing up for the visit of India’s Prime Minister NarendraModi.

AIBC Chair DipenRughani and vice-chair Sheba Nandkeolyar believe the visit will not just help AIBC—founded to foster bi-lateral relations between the two countries—but NRIs living in Australia. “Australia has a lot to offer India in the skills sector, including resources, energy, education, and related technologies. The visit will solidify the Australia-India relationship and take it to new heights,” says Dipen.

AIBC works to promote and facilitate trade and investment between Australia and India by creating a platform and the right channels for discussion of bilateral trade and investment opportunities.

The non-profit organisation, with a mission to promote trade dialogue between India and Australia, works in tandem with Federal and State government agencies, the diplomats and industry bodies.

AIBC, which has a growing membership and active chapters in NSW, ACT, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia, plays a pivotal role in showcasing opportunities to business communities of and for Australian Corporations through an active calendar of events, delegate meets, facilitation of knowledge and resources to ascertain emerging opportunities in India.

The Indian Sun spoke to AIBC’s DipenRughani and Sheba Nandkeolyar.

How will the AIBC leverage the PM’s visit?

Dipen: Mr Modi is very keen to work with Australian businesses and benefit from the knowledge, experience and skills our local businesses possess, in order to assist India’s growth strategy from an emerging country to a developed nation. There is a long way to go but Australia can certainly help where possible.

The changes Mr Modi has already made in India over the past six months have been huge; these will assure other nations that India is open for business. The “More Governance Less Government” mantra will show that India is shaking off its tag of a corrupt country where it is hard to do business.

Mr Modi has also introduced policy changes to make India an easy country to conduct business. His government has launched the “Make in India” campaign to attract more manufacturing in India.

All of these activities, including the ease of doing business in India and good governance influence and promote Australia-India trade and investment.

What AIBC needs to do/is doing is promote the new changes and show Australian organisations that it is easier and better to do business with India and start to change the perception of Australians about India.

What has the AIBC’s focus been in the last year?

Dipen: The last 12 months have been about consolidation for AIBC, we’ve experienced a number of big changes where we have been bedding down the new constitution and the policy and procedure manual. We have been working on our exposure to Federal government and getting closer to Austrade and DFAT as well as the various Federal Government Agencies.

Almost six months ago we held our second national elections and they resulted in me and Sheba becoming Chair and Vice-Chair respectively. In these few months we have accomplished a number of things including being invited to participate in the Australian PM’s delegation to India, we are working closely with Austrade on the `Australia in India Business week’, which will be held in January 2015. AIBC once again has been invited to be a Partner Organisation for Vibrant Gujarat 2015, we are now inviting expressions of interest for this important international business summit.

Sheba: The one change that I can think of is that AIBC has become the first port of call for Government & the industry, in reference to Australia–India business interests and opportunities.

What will your priorities be in 2015?

Dipen: Vibrant Gujarat 2015 Summit; Australia in India Business Week; Australia India business summit with CII; advisory board; national conference; industry chapters; grow membership; more events nationally; delegations to India.

Sheba: We are also determined to build a closer working and supportive relationship with the Australian and Indian governments.

AIBC intends to play a stronger advisory and advocacy role in growing the Australia India relationship including advising in reducing trade barriers. The trade relationship needs to be grown a lot more rapidly especially with MrModi’s visit to Australia, and AIBC will do its utmost to facilitate this.

Could you tell us about trade between Indian and Australia, and the areas that are registering growth?

Sheba: There has been a surge of Indian investments in Australia’s resources. India-Australia bilateral trade in goods and services has been growing at the rate of 20 per cent over the last six years (AUD$8bn to AUD$23bn today).

Australian exports to India are on the rise, India is now Australia’s 4th biggest export market underlining the importance of India as a major export and investment destination for Australia. Merchandise exports to India registered a 36.8 per cent increase. Australia’s leading merchandise exports include coal, gold, copper ore, wool, horticulture, etc.

Negotiations to conclude a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement between Australia and India were launched in May 2011. There have been five rounds of negotiations, the most recent of which was held in May 2013.

In September 2014, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Mr Modi renewed both countries’ commitment for an early conclusion of an equitable, balanced, comprehensive and high quality agreement no later than 2016.

India is looking actively at developing infrastructure, manufacturing and skills development. Australia can play a significant role in contributing to these initiatives listed as priority by the Indian Government.

What do you expect from Prime Minister on the Australia-India trade front? Is there anything about Australia and the Indian community in Australia that makes this visit important?

Dipen: This is the first time an Indian Prime Minister will be visiting Australia after 28 years. The last time an Indian Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, visited, he and his counterpart Bob Hawke established the Australia India Business Council.

With the visit of Mr Modi we will see a number of initiatives being launched, a number of MOUs being signed and the important Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) being expedited. We believe both governments want to get a move on with the CECA and it is likely to be completed by the end of 2016. This will be very good news for businesses in both countries and will assure that trade and investment will increase between the countries.

Sheba: I expect the two governments will make a big commitment to accelerating negotiations for the Australia India Comprehensive Economic Co-operation Agreement. The two governments are committed to a target of AUD$40 bn in the next five years in goods and services trade.

Mr Modi’s visit can open enormous opportunities for participating in developing infrastructure for India.

As Mr Modi is known for his pro-business policies, Indian middle classes can offer excellent opportunities for Australian companies interested in India.

In what ways can the Indian community in Australia capitalise on this visit?

Sheba: The ‘Modi Magic’ has touched a billion Indians and over half a million Indians based in Australia.

Australian Indians are highly educated, professionals and are business owners. They will certainly capitalise by transmitting this magic in all that they do. The passion for their country of birth and origin is at its highest and everyone is keen to contribute in some way to building India into a leading economy.

Mr Modi’s visit has resulted in 21,000 people registering to attend his reception in Sydney within three days of tickets becoming available. This shows that the Australian Indian community are waiting eagerly to meet the Indian Prime Minister on his historic visit to Australia, the first by an Indian Prime Minister in nearly 30 years.

Mr Modi who has an amazing social media following has already started a link, wherein he invited the community to start sharing their ideas. Several members have already started doing so. What an amazing inclusive leader!

What can Indian businesses based in Australia expect from this visit?

Sheba: Most Australian Indians see Mr Modi as an economic reformer who will kick-start investments with a fast pace. There are some amazing similarities between the two prime ministers of Australia and India.

Tony Abbott is also very pro-business in his policies, as Mr Modi is with his clear mandate to make India business friendly.

Both leaders realise the value of business creation, which adds to jobs and contributes to the economy.

With Mr Modi’s visit, I expect that India will be taken more seriously as a business destination than it was in the past. His visit to the US clearly indicated how the US business community has fully decided to support his initiatives. We expect the Australian business community to support his business initiatives and priorities in every possible manner.

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