Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull arrived on a four day visit to India on April 9. Mr. Turnbull was received by Mr. Narendra Modi at Rastrapati Bhawan and was then accorded the ceremonial guard of honour in the forecourt of the presidential residence. This is Turnbull’s first bilateral visit to India since he assumed office in September 2015. Mr. Modi and Mr. Turnbull have previously met bilaterally on the sidelines of a G20 meeting in China last year. Previous PM of Australia Tony Abbott had visited India in September 2014, just months after Narendra Modi took office. This was followed by Modi’s visit to Australia in November that year. During his first year in office, Turnbull focused on improving ties with countries in the immediate neighbourhood with visits to Indonesia and major trade partner China. Australian high commission officials in India claimed that India is a foreign policy priority for their country.
The visit of the Australian Prime Minister aimed at covering the full breadth of the fast growing Australia-India relationship including education, trade and defence. On agenda were a number of agreements in the fields of security, environment, sports, science and technology and health etc.to be concluded during the visit. Australia has already invested $7 billion in India and is keen to ramp up investments.
Closer ties with India
Australian Prime Minister said that his country will work more closely with India in order to secure stronger ties. According to him Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi is leading this most remarkable nation on an extraordinary journey of growth and development. He appreciated that the achievements of India are admired in the world, and Australia, according to him, Australia looks forward to working even more closely than it has done in the past. During their talks, the two leaders decided to expand their ties in several key areas including defence, trade, energy and education.
Adani Group’s investment in coal mine in Queensland
Turnbull’s visit comes as India’s Adani Group is facing opposition to its plans to invest $16.5 billion in a coal mine in Queensland. Australia’s largest coal project—which could fuel power generation for 100 million Indians and create 10,000 jobs in Queensland—has ignited protests from environment groups who are concerned that the development will increase carbon pollution and endanger the health of the Great Barrier Reef marine park in northern Queensland. Environmental opposition to the mine, which could begin production in 2020, has delayed the first phase of the project and prompted the company to cut underground capacity by 38%. The Adani group’s plan to build one of the world’s largest coal mines in Queensland moved closer to realization after Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull met founder-chairman Gautam Adani during his three-day visit to India. Turnbull assured the Indian billionaire that his government would resolve an issue with native title laws, helping take the $16.5 billion project closer to fruition.
On export of Uranium
Malcolm Turnbull said on April 10 that Australia will start uranium exports to India as soon as possible referring to a a long-standing demand from Asia’s third largest economy which is looking at environment friendly fuels to power its growing economy. Both the prime ministers felt that commercial export of Australian uranium could begin soon, opening up a new avenue for Australia to support India’s energy requirement.
Mr. Modi and Mr.Turnbull also welcomed “continued and deepened” trilateral cooperation and dialogue among Australia, India and Japan. In the talks, Turnbull pointed to Australia’s strong support for India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. He also said Australia supports India’s entry into the Australia Group and the Wassenaar Arrangement, two key export control groups.
Negotiations on CEPA
Mr. Turnbull and Mr. Modi also directed their officials to hold an early round of negotiations on a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement (CECA), several rounds of negotiations for which have already taken place without a breakthrough. The two prime ministers have now asked negotiators on both sides to narrow their differences and list their priorities soon so that talks on it could move forward. Sticking points include India’s reluctance to open up the agriculture sector to Australian imports and high Indian tariffs on imported wines and spirits.
According to a joint statement issued by the two countries, while emphasizing on cooperation in the maritime space, the two countries recognised the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight, unimpeded lawful commerce, as well as resolving maritime disputes by peaceful means, in accordance with international law. This is seen as a reference to China’s growing assertiveness in South China Sea.
On terrorism, Mr. Modi and Mr.Turnbull “emphasised the need for urgent measures to counter and prevent the spread of terrorism and violent extremism and radicalisation and expressed their determination to take concrete measures to step up cooperation and coordination among the law enforcement, intelligence and security organizations.