India set to invest in Oz minerals: Envoy


New Delhi

India’s Khanij Bidesh India Ltd (KABIL) is set to make a “significant investment” for developing critical mineral resources in Australia that will be crucial for creating secure supply chains for the commodities, Australian high commissioner Barry O’Farrell has said.

With bilateral trade having been boosted by last year’s Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA), upgrading the deal to a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement (CECA) is expected to figure during Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese visit in March, O’Farrell said in an interview.

Strategic and economic ties between the two sides have undergone a dramatic change in recent years, with relations elevated to a comprehensive strategic partnership in June 2020. The two countries signed a pact on reciprocal access to military bases for logistics support in 2020 and concluded ECTA in April 2022.

In recent months, the two sides have focused on cooperation in developing Australia’s extensive reserves of rare earths such as lithium and cobalt, key to India’s ambitious plans to develop clean technologies and electric vehicles. Mines minister Pralhad Joshi visited Australia last July to foster collaboration in the sector.

“We have KABIL about to make a significant investment in critical minerals and rare earth mines in Australia to deliver that long sought after resilient and secure supply chain we have been talking about,” O’Farrell said, referring to the joint venture formed by three Indian state-run firms to ensure supplies of strategic minerals.

With ECTA coming into force last December, tariffs were reduced on 96% of Indian exports, and an arrangement for eliminating double taxation on IT services will come into effect from April 1. The proposed CECA is expected to come up during Albanese’s visit to India, O’Farrell said, noting that commerce minister Piyush Goyal and his Australian counterpart Don Farrell have said they want the deal “done quickly”.

“We’ll be seeking to look at potential new areas like sustainable development and two-way investment, and digital trade will be one of those issues that that we seek to negotiate a settlement on with India as well,” he said. “Covid brought into focus that we have complementary economies. We have things that India needs and India has opportunities that will benefit Australia’s economy.”

The change in the relationship is reflected by visits to Australia by 10 Indian ministers during 2022, and Albanese’s arrival in India will be preceded by visits by Australia’s finance and education ministers, O’Farrell said. The two sides are collaborating on multilateral tracks, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi set to travel to Australia this year for the Quad Leaders Summit.

The two countries are also working closely on security, technology and climate change, both bilaterally and within Quad. Pointing to the work done in the field of cyber-security, he said: “Following on the adoption of our 5G policy back before Covid in 2019, our home affairs people came to India and briefed India on what we have done to try and protect the source of our future technology.”

While the Albanese government has engaged China after several years of strained relations, O’Farrell said Australia won’t compromise on its interests. “Our national interest will always underpin whatever discussions we have and part of our national interest is a commitment to international rules and norms that sometimes that other country [China] has found challenging,” he said.

He said Australia’s relations with other countries “shouldn’t be defined through the lens of China” because it has shown that it will always make decisions in its national interests. “And happily, those national interests coincide or are complementary with India’s,” he added.

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