A trade mission comprising about 450 Australian business leaders is currently in India to explore new export opportunities.
Led by Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb, it is Australia’s largest-ever business mission to India.
The main aim of the week-long trip – Australia Business Week in India (ABWI) – is to build on the growing economic momentum between the two countries.
Delegates represent a wide range of sectors, including resources and energy, infrastructure, transport, agribusiness and food, financial services, health and medical, sport, cultural services, tourism, education and training.
Participants will take part in investment forums and other industry-specific events across a number of Indian cities including New Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Jaipur and Chandigarh.
During the visit Mr Robb launched the Australia Pavilion at Vibrant Gujarat 2015 – a leading trade and investment event – alongside Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Vibrant Gujarat 2015 attracts up to 50,000 delegates from around the globe.
"As a partner country for Vibrant Gujarat 2015, we will showcase the best of Australian tourism and education to a potential audience of over one million people and demonstrate that Australia is open for business,” Mr Robb said.
“India is at an exciting time in its history. We are here to unlock the vast untapped potential of our trade and investment relationship.”
The event coincides with the start of Australian Business Week in India (ABWI).
Mr Robb will also open the Confederation of India Industries (CII) India-Australia Business Summit in New Dehli.
The visit by the Trade and Investment Minister follows the successful visit by Prime Minister Abbott to India last September and Mr Modi’s recent visit to Australia, the first by an Indian Prime Minister in 28 years.
Major trading partner
Mr Robb said with a population of 1.2 billion people and an emerging middle class, India was a country of enormous opportunity and Australia has much to offer in supporting its development.
“As Prime Minister Modi said during his visit in November, India sees Australia as a major partner in every area of its national priorities. We are here to show that the Australian Government and Australian businesses and institutions are ready and willing to work with India to help its transformation into one of the world’s great economic powers,” Mr Robb said.
Mr Robb will also continue high-level discussions aimed at finalising a comprehensive bilateral trade agreement between Australia and India. Prime Ministers Abbott and Modi would like to see an agreement concluded by the end of 2015.
India is Australia’s fifth largest export market and two-way trade between India and Australia is approximately A$15 billion.
“This is a substantial trading relationship but clearly there is scope for significant growth, not only in the more traditional areas of trade such as resources, energy and agriculture, but also across a broad range of services as well as investment,” Mr Robb said.
“Already we have seen a significant MOU signed between Australia’s Woodside and the Adani Group on LNG supply.”
Also, Wollongong University has signed agreements on skills development in the mining sector, while Melbourne University is partnering with India’s top business school, IIMA.
Promoting agricultural exports
Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Senator Richard Colbeck, is part of the delegation to promote Australian agricultural exports.
Senator Colbeck said one of the aims will be to promote Australia’s reputation as a safe, clean and sustainable producer of food and agricultural products.
“I will be attending a number of high-level meetings and forums to further this reputation with our Indian trading partners, and will be travelling to New Delhi, Mumbai and Ahmadabad to discuss opportunities for expanding our two-way trade,” Senator Colbeck said.
“Importantly I’ll not only be promoting our excellent produce but also the Aussie know-how and ingenuity that could help India further develop its own domestic productivity and industries.”
Senator Colbeck also stressed that while Australia could not become a ‘food bowl’ for Asia, significant opportunities did exist for Australian producers and exporters, including for those in his home state Tasmania especially in premium food products and agricultural technology.
“ABARES projects India’s demand for agrifood products will be 136 per cent higher in 2050, compared with 2009, driven by strong income and population growth,” Senator Colbeck said.
“Producers across the country, including those in Tasmania, can look at how they can develop trade relationships in premium food and beverage including wine, fruit, vegetables, meat and dairy—products for which major growth in demand is expected.
“India’s vegetable imports are projected to reach US$47 billion by 2050.
“Fruit imports are projected to reach US$58 billion by 2050, with dairy products US$13 billion and wheat US$15 billion also expected to rise significantly.”
Stone Buddha may hold key to free trade agreement
Meanwhile, the return of a 2000-year-old stone statue of Buddha is expected to help smooth the way for a free trade agreement with India by the end of the year.
The Times of India says the Australian government told Indian authorities the National Gallery of Australia will soon return the statue where it will join two other statues, including the Dancing Shiva, a 900-year old bronze deity that had been stolen from an Indian temple.
The gallery purchased the seated stone Buddha in 2007 with the assistance of Roslyn Packer, the widow of the late Kerry Packer.
It was bought from a New York antiquities dealer for more than $1 million, and is believed to have been looted from an Indian archaeological site.
An obstacle to progress until now has been Australia's refusal to sell uranium to India while it refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott removed the ban during a visit to India in September, saying he trusted India "to do the right thing".
Uranium shipments are likely within five years.