Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says the impact of India’s new Prime Minister has been felt not just in India, where “there’s new excitement and energy” but also Australia.
Recalling Narendra Modi’s high profile trip to Australia last November, Bishop said: “I was waiting to greet him at Canberra airport on the evening of his appearance at a sports stadium full of Indian-Australians in Sydney, and they just would not let him leave.”
“I waited, and waited. But I saw on TV that he was receiving a welcome that you would expect for an international rock star rather than a politician,” Bishop said while presenting the Observer Research Foundation’s inaugural Indo-Pacific oration in New Delhi in April.
“It was the personification of the impact Prime Minister Modi’s leadership has had, not just here in India, but in Australia and other countries.
Bishop said there was “new excitement and energy about India’s future” and Australia was keen to seize the opportunity to forge closer ties.
India is now “at the very heart” of Australia’s strategic outlook, with the subcontinent set to become a “far more important player in East Asia” generally, Bishop said, pointing out that Modi had made this clear by elevating India’s ‘Look East’ policy to an ‘Act East’ policy.
“As we have witnessed with China, it makes sense that India’s strategic weight will grow as its economy grows – and that India will now take on a more ambitious international role,” the Foreign Minister said.
Bishop said both countries’ interests were converging “in a way they haven’t always done before” with both seeing the United States as a friend and partner; both wanting a constructive, advantageous relationship with China; and both committed to democracy, respect for global norms, an independent judiciary, individual liberty, and embracing freedom.
The Foreign Minister welcomed India’s recent moves to boost foreign investment in some sectors, such as insurance, and said Australia wanted to be “the partner of choice” for India’s energy security.
Noting that Australian investors had faced “difficult challenges” in India, Bishop said the business climate would improve as Modi’s economic reforms progressed.
The new government has faced a hard time in recent months, with criticism promised economic overhauls are taking too long to come.
While in Delhi, Bishop held talks with India’s Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, and Culture and Tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma.
She also flagged two key breakthroughs in bilateral trade on the horizon, with the India-Australia Free Trade agreement and nuclear deal to come by the end of this year.
Officials on both sides are working over the details for the free trade agreement, known as the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), while the Australia-India Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement needs to be ratified by the Australian Parliament.
Bishop said the Free Trade Agreement would “propel both of our economies forward and enable our people to realise their full potential,” while bringing “more job opportunities, more opportunity to trade goods and services”.