Australia-India Roundtable Dialogue

Speech, check against delivery


6 February 2014


Thanks for having me today – it's a pleasure to take part in the Fifth Australia-India Roundtable Dialogue.

I'm going to start with an assertion.

I believe the greatest assets of the Australia-India relationship are not the common ties of our past, but the things we can share in the future.

And trade and investment – not history, sport or parliamentary democracy – will be at the centre of those ties.

Don't get me wrong – I like cricket as much as the next man.

Cricket, the English language, democracy and our common history – are a great foundation for friendship.

Certainly, in my time in politics, I've made a lot of good friends among the Indian community – a group of people who share similar values of family, a strong work ethic, entrepreneurship and loyalty and who are as easy to get along with as anyone.

But friendship isn't enough.

Fortunately, as we've seen since coming to government in September, no-one in government or business is making the mistake of leaving our ties to history and culture alone.

What I've seen, since becoming Trade and Investment Minister in the Abbott Government, is that both sides of the India-Australia relationship are showing a strong willingness to deepen our economic relationship.

Prime Minister Abbott met with the co-chairs of the Australia-India CEO Forum in Melbourne in December – demonstrating our eagerness to bolster economic ties.

Australia and India share a strategic partnership.

That means Australia and India are becoming so close, that we think about each other in many of the things that we do.

We share perspectives on how we see the world.

We work together on global and regional challenges.

Our scientific research institutes, and our business sectors, are becoming intimately entwined.

We have strong education links, and of course, strong community ties, with 450,000 people of Indian heritage in Australia.

The fastest growing language in Australia is Hindi.

Around 50,000 Indian students are currently studying in Australia – and with our government's New Colombo Plan, many more of Australia's best and brightest students will be studying in Indian universities.

But underneath it all, for me, is a trade and investment relationship that has so much potential.

Let me start by setting out the approach we're taking in government.

And then set out some of the exciting ways in which we're setting the foundation stones, today, for a great economic relationship in the future.

Open for business

As Australia's Trade and Investment Minister, my job is simple – to promote an economic and trade environment conducive to the pro-growth agenda of the Abbott Government.

How are we doing that?

Our overarching economic objective is to remove from centre stage unsustainable government spending, endless rule changes and damaging new taxes.

We intend to replace this government-knows-best approach with robust growth driven by the private sector.

Guiding this are four key principles:

  • Living within our means – that means restoring the Budget to surplus and paying down debt.
  • Pursuing a substantial deregulation agenda and reducing the cost of doing business.
  • Restoring a culture of personal responsibility.
  • And backing our strengths as a country.

For me, backing our strengths will be crucial to our success.

Governments often focus on weaknesses rather than strengths – because that is where the squeaky wheel is.

But we have to keep an eye on what is going to drive growth for Australia, what is going to drive trade and investment, and what we do best.

Clearly, resources and energy are national strengths.

Food and agriculture.

Services like education, and tourism.

Health and medical research.

And the high-end manufacturing often associated with these strengths – such as medical devices, drones for agricultural use, innovative food and irrigation technology, high quality tourism infrastructure, 21st century education partnerships and world-leading mining and energy equipment and services.

These are sectors in the Australian economy that – in my view – are going to fundamentally drive sustainable economic growth in the decades ahead.

They are not only great sectors of our past or present.

They also represent great future opportunities for our two-way trade and investment relationship.

Other critical Australian strengths are our geographic location – being in the same time zone of the Indo-Pacific region – our strong rule of law and our peaceful, democratic government.

Our four objectives are our driving principles.

But they aren't just words.

We introduced legislation to Parliament, in our first week in government, to reduce business costs, to scrap the carbon and mining taxes, to deregulate, and make it easier to get approval for major projects.

In the first three and a half months of government, we gave federal environmental approvals for more than $400 billion worth of projects, some of which had been stalled for up to six years.

We've pressed hard for trade liberalisation that opens new markets and opportunities for business – and we have already agreed a Free Trade Agreement with Korea.

FTA negotiations are at an advanced stage with China and Japan, and work continues on negotiating a comprehensive economic agreement with India and Indonesia.

We're involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

We're interested in all paths to trade liberalisation.

We are also working very hard on the investment front.

We're determined to draw in fresh foreign capital to keep building Australia and get our economy moving – which is why I was given the investment portfolio along with trade.

Since the "first fleet" we have needed foreign investment to help us develop Australia. That need continues today.

Most of the big projects we want to get off the ground require foreign capital.

In that context, the countries of the Indo-Pacific are understandably critical to our future national prosperity.

The growth of the Asian middle class is a systemic change we'd be foolish to ignore.

There are now some 600 million people in the middle class, from India through to China, and all the countries in between.

In the next 15 to 20 years – I'm talking about 2030, not 2050 or 2100 – that middle class will be something like 3 billion people.

We are at the beginning of a seismic shift in global trade and investment patterns as a consequence.

Our job, in government, is to do whatever we can to best position Australia to be part of that change.

And India will be central to that task.

The India-Australia trade and investment relationship

I'd like to give a few examples of the sorts of things we are seeing today that will, in my view, set us up for the deeper relationship of our future.

We have an established bilateral architecture of annual ministerial meetings on trade, foreign affairs, education and energy.

Our strategic cooperation is growing, with our first bilateral maritime exercise planned for 2015.

We are looking forward to more Australian students studying in India from 2015 under the New Colombo Plan which I mentioned earlier.

And, students from India are a very important part of our international student population.

But the most exciting, for me, is that we're seeing a trade and investment relationship starting to take advantage of the growing complementarities between our two economies.

India is now our 4th largest merchandise export destination, bigger than our trading relationship with the United States.

Unsurprisingly, resources and energy feature heavily among our small basket of significant exports to India – nearly $5 billion in coal exports in 2012-13, $3 billion in gold, and so on.

The standout sector for the past decade or so has been education services, a good example of where our historical, linguistic and geographic connections have underpinned a growing trade.

A young Indian student Uttam Kumar recently beat 37,000 other entries in our global Win Your Future Unlimited competition, to gain 12 months free study and board at an Australian university of his choice.

The competition asked students to design a digital postcard explaining how an Australian education could help realise their future dreams.

I understand Mr Kumar will study materials science at the University of New South Wales.

That's a win for Mr Kumar.

But also for Australia – in our education sector, and, potentially, for other sectors, like engineering, as he moves into his professional life.

There are many great stories like that.

In terms of investment, the level of Indian investment in Australia is around $10 billion, while Australian investment in India is worth around $6 billion.

Our trade and investment relationship is significant, but it is really only starting to take off.

Our Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement – when complete – will be a vital shot in the arm for a tighter trade and investment relationship.

Detailed market access negotiations are currently underway.

And our Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement will allow for the export of Australian uranium to support India's growing electricity demands.

Backing our strengths

I mentioned the $400 billion worth of approvals we've made since coming to office.

In the last few months, two very important Indian projects have been approved.

GVK's Alpha Coal project at Abbott Point in Queensland's Galilee Basin.

And Adani's Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail project, in the same area.

Each of these projects is tipped to see investment of about $10 billion – in mines, railway links and associated port expansions.

Between them they could see the export of some 90 million tonnes of coal per year at peak production, with mine lives of several decades.

They will create thousands of local jobs – possibly more than 10,000 jobs between them.

Australia – and India – could be seeing the benefits of these developments for as long as 90 years – that is, from here to the 22nd Century.

It's hard to think of a better example of what I mean by saying we believe in backing our strengths, to set us up for the future.

Our strengths in mining and resources, our geographic location, and so on.

As the Indian market grows, energy and resources products – including uranium used for power generation, once we have a bilateral export arrangement in place – will be huge growth assets for our relationship.

Agriculture will, too.

This is another classic Australian strength that will grow even more important, in what I call the century of food and water security.

We're already one of the region's most significant agricultural exporters, directly feeding 60 million people a year, and indirectly another 400 million.

But as I told a United States-Australia dialogue on water in California last month, that with better water use, these numbers can double in the years ahead as Asia becomes more prosperous.

We're right next door, and can play a much more significant role in helping to sustain a growing India.

We can also help boost competitiveness and productivity.

We have a strong research sector.

And an innovative training sector.

Australia's Vocational, Education and Training providers are amongst the best in the world and well placed to work with Indian companies to enhance skills training.

I am pleased that some of our providers are already active or assessing the opportunities in India.

A recent visit to India by some of our premier research organisations including CSIRO and NICTA found a warm welcome from Indian corporations and research bodies to progress mutually beneficial research collaboration in such areas as ICT, health and materials science.

The services of the future

But I'd like to finish with an example from another Australian strength – tourism.

Services are critical – because there are a large number of growing complementarities between our two heavily service-based economies.

In education, financial services, legal and accounting, environmental services, agribusiness health, aged care, logistics, and so on – there is huge scope for growth.

There's a young man in Melbourne who has a business in facilitating marriage proposals.

He helps men propose to their would-be brides.

I suppose over the millennia there have been good proposals – and maybe others that have not been well received.

This fellow – his business is called Pitch & Woo – tries to help men hit the mark.

A couple of weeks ago he came back from his first big Indian wedding.

He didn't arrange the wedding itself – that might well be a task beyond any one man, particularly for an Indian wedding – but he helped the groom, six months earlier, propose to his would-be bride.

He helped him set up a romantic scene for the proposal in Capri – and hit the right mark.

Now, imagine that: a young man in Melbourne identifying a niche market in India, a service that he can provide, fulfilling one of the multitude of needs and aspirations in what you might see as the Indian wedding market.

The Indian wedding market has been valued at over $14 billion a year – and Australia can offer services and experiences that might play an important role in that market.

Proposal services. Honeymoon services, and so on.

I reckon that's a great example of Australia backing its strengths – our great natural environment, being in Asia's time zone, and our extraordinary services skills.

There will be a lot more of that in the future.

Australia is unabashedly and undeniably a modern, future-facing economy.

We're looking for opportunities to play to our strengths.

And opportunities to work with India.

The increased flow of trade and investment between our two countries will be, for my money, the critical underpinning of a very significant relationship during this century.

Thank you.

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