With trade, investment and further deepening of ties in mind, Australia and India on Tuesday decided to conclude early on a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), expedite implementation of the civil nuclear agreement, and reconstitute the CEO Forum.
Capping his five-day visit to Australia — three in Brisbane, a day in Sydney and today in Canberra and Melbourne — the first by an Indian Prime Minister in 30 years, Narendra Modi left for Fiji late evening after a grand reception and dinner at the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground by Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
The two countries signed five memoranda of understanding on social security, art and culture, narcotics, tourism and transfer of sentenced persons. For Prime Minister Abbot, an early conclusion of the CECA is a top priority. Ahead of Modi’s address to the joint session of Parliament, Abbott said India-Australia trade at $15 billion was underdeveloped and needed to be “cranked up”. Australia has already inked a trade deal with China with Xi Jinping here, and earlier with Japan and South Korea.
In a joint statement in Canberra, they directed that an equitable, balanced, mutually beneficial and high-quality CECA be brought to an early conclusion to realise the potential of commercial relations. “The next round of negotiations will be held in December. The two Prime Ministers hoped for better market access for good and services,” the statement said.
Expressing satisfaction at the increase in investment, they, however, recognised the tremendous untapped potential. “Indian investment in the resource sector in Australia promises to create jobs and value for the Australian economy just as Australian investment in cold chain storage, energy, infrastructure and other sectors can do for the Indian economy,” the statement issued in Canberra said.
Later in day in Melbourne, Prime Minister Modi spoke to a select group of top Australian CEOs and also addressed a business gathering of Australia India Business Council. The Indian Prime Minister said this was the right time to invest in India and said he personally would ensure they did not face any hurdles. “We have created a fast track mechanism for public private partnerships and also a single window mechanism for facilitating business,” Modi said.
He said the country was pursuing reforms to enhance the ease of business and was also on the path of improving the work culture. “You will find a policy environment that is predictable, transparent and fair,” the Prime Minister said, adding the government will take all efforts for faster and inclusive growth. India had three Ds — democracy, demographics and demand — which make it an ideal destination for Australia, Modi said.
“In the first quarter of 2014-15, we grew 5.7 per cent. This is one per cent higher than the (corresponding period) previous year. The OECD has projected that India will be the only large economy that will show a higher growth compared with the previous year,” he said. India will hold a ‘Make in India’ show in Australia in 2015. Australia would also be holding Business Week in India in January 2015.
“The fact that we have exchanged visits in two months is a sign of better things to come,” Modi said. Abbott was the first foreign Prime Minister to visit India in September this year after Modi came to power. During his stay here, Modi addressed a joint sitting of both houses of Parliament (the first time an Indian prime minister has done so), met the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Leader of the Opposition in Canberra.
I consider Modi my brother: Abbott
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott played a remarkable host, most certainly warming the cockles of visiting Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s heart. Abbott, who spent many months in India as a student, put his arms around Modi often through the day’s events, and said he considered him a brother. “Besides many things common, both Indian and Australia love beating England in cricket,” Abbott said. In fact, addressing the many Indian Australians, he actually said, this, “You have come to a magnificent country. But you come from a country where lives a magnificent person (points to Modi).”
Cricket seemed to be a favourite theme Abbott and Modi took to in sharing common interests. In Canberra, addressing the joint session of Parliament, Modi said, “We celebrate the legend of Bradman and the class of Tendulkar together. We are impressed by Australian speed as you are charmed by the Indian spin. Until of course, Shane Warne came along!” If at the Allphones Arena in Sydney, Bret Lee and J Srinath dropped by, at the MCG, it was Kapil Dev and Sunil Gavaskar. Both Modi and Abbott, however, agreed their ties should extend much beyond cricket given the complementarities.
The John Lang connection
After getting Barack Obama and Tony Abbott excited about Walter Burley Griffin, an American from Chicago who designed Canberra and spent his final days in Lucknow, Narendra Modi had another surprise for the Australian Prime Minister. On his final day at Canberra, the Indian PM presented Abbott a gift which again had a slice of history to it. The gift was a commemorative photo collage dedicated to the memory of John Lang, an Australian, who had intervened on behalf of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi and wrote a memorandum dated June 8, 1854, to Governor General Lord Dalhousie, on the Doctrine of Lapse. The PMO did not forget to say that Lakshmibai originally hailed from Varanasi, the constituency he represented in Lok Sabha.
Not one to disappoint
A group of two-three dozen seemed to have made up their mind to wait outside Melbourne Cricket Ground to catch up with Prime Minister Modi no matter how long it took. The PM, who was hosted by Australian PM Tony Abbott, had business inside. After the reception, clamour for selfies inside the MCG stadium and a sit-in dinner with almost 500 invitees, as Modi came out, this group started shouting “Modi”. The Indian PM was not to disappoint. Breaking the security cordon, he walked up to this bunch, shook hands and posed for pictures, leaving them excited for the rest of the evening.