India, Australia set to finalise civil n-deal, strengthen ties

There is now much more to Australia's relationship with India than the clichés like cricket, curry and the Commonwealth. India-Australia bilateral relations are showing signs of strengthening further under the Tony Abbott government as both countries have decided to hold the third round of negotiations to finalise a Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement (CNCA).

The talks to finalise the nuclear agreement would be held in New Delhi from Nov 25 and are likely to clear the way for the supply of the crucial nuclear fuel to India. The CNCA was also on the top of the agenda as the foreign ministers of both countries, Salman Khurshid and Julie Bishop, met in Perth recently.

The Liberal government's willingness to expedite the process is being seen as a sign of the robust Indo-Australian ties in the years to come.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has also been clear about her government's willingness to make special efforts to bolster the bilateral ties with a country which is the fifth largest export market for Australia.

"Advancing relations with India is a priority for the Australian government...Our discussion followed very productive talks between Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at the annual Leaders' Meeting in Brunei Oct 10," Bishop said in a media conference after meeting her Indian counterpart Salman Khurshid.

The Indian external affairs minister was in Perth to attend the Indian Ocean Region Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC) meeting.

"We agreed that conclusion of a high-quality comprehensive economic cooperation agreement would underpin a further significant expansion of the trade and investment relationship to mutual benefit," Julie Bishop said.

Both the countries discussed the importance of building a strategic relationship focussing not only on energy security but also various other matters including trade, defence, environment, etc. Julie Bishop also gave an indication that both the countries are working to finalise dates for the second ministerial meeting on energy security.

"Following the successful visit by Indian Defence Minister (A.K.) Antony to Australia in June, we also had good discussions on how to strengthen our security and strategic cooperation, including reviewing progress towards conducting a bilateral maritime exercise in 2015," Bishop was quoted as saying.

Interestingly, India and Australia have also added cyber security dialogue to the bilateral talks' agenda. The first of such parleys would be organised in the first half of 2014. Threats to the democratic setup in both the countries like terrorism and transnational crime are also on the discussion table.

Australia and India are also working on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) which would facilitate increased trade between two Indian Ocean Rim countries.

India is willing, according to the media reports, to strengthen the economic ties even further as multibillion dollar contract for sourcing Australian gas has been inked.

The defence cooperation between two countries is also fast turning into a reality as navies of India and Australia have staged joint exercises. Both the countries have also laid stress on the security of sea lanes in an era when China is beginning to exert supremacy and is flexing muscle all over the region.

"We agreed that conclusion of a high-quality comprehensive economic cooperation agreement would underpin a further significant expansion of the trade and investment relationship to mutual benefit," Julie Bishop said in Perth.

Australia's first woman prime minister Julia Gillard took some important initiatives to improve Indo-Australian relations. The last Liberal prime minister John Howard also deserves the credit for showing foresight in listing India as among the countries with whom Australia should have strong ties.

India is Australia's fifth-largest export market, the largest source of skilled migrants and the second largest source of international students. India is also turning out to be a significant investor in various mega projects in Australia. The balance of trade is strongly tilted in favour of Australia and it is yet to be seen if India manages to improve her exports to Australia in the future.

In another sign of the growing ties, a major regional conference of persons of Indian origin, the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, is being organised in Sydney this month.

(Rekha Bhattacharjee is a veteran editor who resides in Sydney. The views expressed are personal. She can be contacted at vijay@hotkey.net.au)

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