Deccan Chronicle

India, Australia resolve to sign trade pact

Deccan Chronicle.| Sridhar Kumaraswami

Published on: March 21, 2022 | Updated on: March 22, 2022

Quad should focus on Indo-Pacific, says Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inspecting the antiquities repatriated from Australia, in New Delhi. (PIB / AFP)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inspecting the antiquities repatriated from Australia, in New Delhi. (PIB / AFP)

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Australian PM Scott Morrison on Monday held their hour-long virtual summit in which both nations decided to strengthen their Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with measures like holding annual summits, inking of an MoU in the critical mining sector and joint investment and collaboration in the supply of critical minerals such as lithium that Australia is rich in, talks on inking an interim Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) "as soon as possible", strengthening ties in defence and security, space and education, signing of a letter of intent towards signing a Migration and Mobility Partnership Agreement, and talks on seeking Australian investment in India’s National Infrastructure Investment Fund (NIIF).

As Australian PM Morrison, in his opening remarks, attacked "Russia’s unlawful invasion of Ukraine" and spoke about the implications it would have for the Indo-Pacific region due to this "coercion", foreign secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla later said at a special briefing that both the Ukraine issue and China’s role in the Indo-Pacific region were discussed between the two leaders, with Australia showing some understanding of India’s position. Both leaders called for an immediate halt to violence in the Ukraine conflict.

The foreign secretary said Mr Modi had also discussed the situation in the Ladakh sector with the Australian PM and conveyed that there can’t be normality in Sino-Indian ties unless there is peace and tranquillity on the borders. The Australian PM also conveyed his views on China’s role in the South China Sea.

In his opening remarks, Mr Modi focused on an "open and inclusive" Indo-Pacific region and the need for the Quad (that includes the United States and Japan, besides India and Australia) in the region. It was also recognised that despite the Ukraine conflict, the focus must continue on the Indo-Pacific region where there is cooperation between the two countries and also within the Quad. In a statement, New Delhi said: "Both the leaders also appreciated the increasing strategic convergence between the two countries as fellow democracies with shared values and common interests, which include a free, open, inclusive, and prosperous Indo-Pacific." Both leaders also discussed the situation in Myanmar after the military coup there in February last year and supported the Asean initiatives for peace there.

Mr Shringla said a "Young Officers’ Defence Exchange Programme" -- that is named after former Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Bipin Rawat, who died last year in a helicopter crash -- between the two nations had been decided upon to "increase service to service contacts". Australia also announced a "Maitreyi" Scholarship and Fellowship programme for 10 Indian students at a time.  An educational task force has also decided to work towards mutual recognition of educational qualifications, Mr Shringla said. There were also discussions on facilitating "migration and mobility of students and professionals between the two countries". The two leaders also decided to increase cooperation between India’s NIIF and Australia’s Pension and Sovereign Fund, which is called the Future Fund. India will offer the same tax benefits for Australia’s Pension and Sovereign Fund to invest in India as is given in Australia.  

In his opening remarks, Australian PM Scott Morrison raised the issue of the Ukraine conflict and said the "war in Europe" should never have happened. With an obvious eye on China, he pitched for an "inclusive and prosperous" Indo-Pacific region. Mr Morrison said the two nations would "redouble efforts" to ink the CECA to "unlock opportunities" in the trade sector. Mr Modi, on his part, expressed confidence that there would be consensus soon between the two nations in all aspects to sign the CECA. He spoke about the cooperation between the two nations in various sectors, including defence and security, and also establishment of an annual summit mechanism between both countries for a structural arrangement.

A statement by the external affairs ministry said: "Both the leaders expressed satisfaction at the progress made under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership established during the 1st Virtual Summit in June 2020. Prime Minister Modi expressed his satisfaction at the enhanced scope of the relationship which now covers diverse areas such as trade and investments, defence and security, education and innovation, science and technology, critical minerals, water management, new and renewable energy technology, Covid-19 related research, etc."

The MEA added: "Prime Minister Modi thanked H.E. Mr Scott Morrison for the special gesture in returning 29 ancient artefacts to India. These artefacts comprise sculptures, paintings and photographs, across centuries, some dating back to the 9th-10th century, from different parts of India. The artefacts include 12th century Chola bronzes, 11th-12th century Jain sculptures from Rajasthan, 12th-13th century sandstone Goddess Mahisasuramardini from Gujarat, 18th-19th century paintings and early gelatin silver photographs."

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