Australia eyes mega Indian infrastructure projects

Melbourne, June 13 (IANS) As India gears up for a massive upgrade and expansion of its infrastructure, Australia is seeking to play a major role in this modernisation. The Australian government and other organisations are already working to make strategies to get a sizeable slice of the Indian pie.

Besides infrastructure projects, Australian companies are also reportedly queuing up to help their Indian counterparts, or governmental organisations, in food transport and preservation.

The Australian corporate world is buoyed by the reports that India plans to spend a mind-boggling one trillion dollars on the infrastructure projects as a part of the 12th five-year plan. Out of this one trillion US dollar kitty, according to the projections published in the Australian Financial Review newspaper Thursday, India plans to invest $123 billion on roads, $55 billion on ports, $300 billion on rail and $13billion on airports in the next five years.

Interestingly, the figures are so humungous that the AFR report has mentioned the projections in millions and not in billions (except the planned spend on the railway projects).

"An opportunity exists for Australia to play a larger role in facilitating the financing (through structures such as public private partnerships) and leading practice governance models to support large infrastructure projects in India by partnering with local government institutions and private sector participants," read a recent submission to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT) penned by Amal Varghese and others.

It's a well documented fact that India's food production is marred by a poor infrastructure like road and rail transport system. A massive amount of fresh produce gets spoiled due to the aforementioned logistic reasons. Australians can help in building world-class food storage and refrigerated food transport system in India.

"Rather than just selling food to India, it could be those support services where Australia can play a leading role," the AFR news article has quoted the head of commercial banking at HSBC in India Sandeep Uppal as saying.

Australia is particularly interested in making its contribution to address the literally insatiable demand for food products like vegetables and fruits in India.

Australian participation in the mega Indian infrastructure projects and increased food exports could help the Indo-Pacific economy to meet the target of expanding the bilateral trade from A$20 billion to A$40 billion by 2016.

According to Australia India Institute reports, there is a huge scope for the Australian food exporters to tap demand for fresh vegetables and fruits in India. While the Indian food demand matches, more or less, that of China; there is a huge gap between the Australian food export to the two most populous countries in the world.

Australia has managed to double the exports of the processed food alone to China in the last five years from A$794 million to A$1.511 billion. The total exports of food products to India lingers far behind at around A$400 million.

There are a number of large Australian companies who are already active in India in infrastructure, logistic, etc. fields. Linfox, Australia's second largest privately owned company which has 22,000 people working in 10 countries, is one of such businesses benefitting from the still unfolding story about the rise of India as a super economy.

It is not only the large Australian companies which can benefit from the 12th five year plan related developmental activities in India.

"The growing middle class in India, China and South-East Asia is real and it is actually happening for some small companies - and not so small companies as well. We think there is a huge opportunity to increase that flow-on," Kate Carnell, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Food and Grocery Council was reported as saying by the Committee Hansard, 13 December 2011.

(Paritosh Parasher can be contacted at paritoshparasher@yahoo.com)

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