India, Australia to boost security ties, focus on education & skills tie-ups

australia-modi1Acting East with renewed zeal, India is set to deepen its strategic and economic ties with Australia, a G20 economy and a strategic partner, during Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s maiden visit to New Delhi.

The major takeaways from Mr Turnbull’s April 9-12 visit are expected to be in realms of enhanced security cooperation and intensified collaboration in education and skills-building between the two countries.

The strategic importance of India and Australia for each other is growing amid the evolving geo-political landscape in the Asia-Pacific region. The Australian government has identified India among the top five priority relationships and New Delhi sees Canberra as a key strategic partner in the region.

Nuclear diplomacy

Civil nuclear cooperation is poised to register progress, with both sides looking to finalise commercial negotiations for the first shipment of uranium from Australia to India this year.

With Australia’s Civil Nuclear Transfers to India Act in place, the two sides are confident of operationalising their civil nuclear agreement, signed three years ago.

“Now it is only a question of commercial deals being done and negotiations are ongoing,” Jaideep Mazumdar, joint secretary (south) in the external affairs ministry, said ahead of the Australian leader’s visit. “There are no procedural constraints, it is only a question of commercial negotiations being concluded on issues such as price, quantity, purity.”

With India’s bid for membership of the elite Nuclear Suppliers Group acquiring momentum, one can expect Australia to reaffirm support for New Delhi during Mr Turnbull’s visit.

India and Australia are expected to sign a clutch of agreements after wide-ranging talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart in New Delhi on April 10.

Indian Ocean geopolitics

With the Indian Ocean emerging as a zone of contention and rivalry between major players in the region, including India and China, New Delhi and Canberra are expected to focus on increased collaboration in the strategically located region. The two countries are also expected to upscale their cooperation in counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation.

Boost for Skill India

Australia is poised to become an important partner of India in its development agenda, with the two countries expected to sign pacts on education and skill development. The focus on the training partnership is evident in the composition of the Australian leader’s delegation, which includes nearly half of Australia’s universities. Australia is home to more than 60,000 Indian students. A few years ago, Indian students had a difficult time in Australia due to their frequent targeting by fringe elements, but this issue has now receded in the background after the Australian government took several steps to buttress security.

No CECA, for now

The economic relationship is growing, with bilateral trade surpassing $10 billion. But the game-changing deal is still in the works as there are still some difficult issues to be sorted out before the two countries can conclude and sign a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA).

“CECA will not be signed during the visit. The negotiations are underway and continuing,” said Australian high commissioner Harinder Sindu.