Connect Asia, Radio Australia

Subjects: Australia-India relationship.

Transcript, E&OE

26 September 2012

LIAM COCHRANE: In light of the focus on China's role in the so-called Asian Century, I asked Mr Emerson if Australia sometimes forgets about India.

CRAIG EMERSON: Not at all. In fact the Asian Century White Paper gives heavy emphasis to our relationship with India and the potential of collaboration between Australia and India in the Asian Century. I mean, after all, India is the third-biggest economy in the world behind China and the United States, and has been growing strongly right through the first decade of the 21st Century. Its average general growth rate was 7 per cent per annum, and there's enormous potential for further growth and development in India.

COCHRANE: We've seen recent protests against opening up the retail sector to foreigners and to a wider embracing of foreign investment. It seems that a large number of Indians don't really want more foreign involvement in their economy. Are we barking up the wrong tree here?

EMERSON: It's a democracy, and that's what happens in a democracy: people express their opinions. But just as Australia could not get ahead without foreign investment, so it is true that foreign investment can play a very important part in India's, not growth, but also its wider economic development. I know the Indian government is very determined to spread the benefits of growth, so that it is inclusive growth – not just limited to large multinational corporations. That's a good thing. We want to play a role in that. And I think one of the big challenges that India faces, as acknowledged itself by India, is infrastructure investment, because 10 to 30 per cent of Indian agricultural produce is lost from the time that it's harvested to the time that they try to get it in for final consumption. A lot of that's to do with storage and transport infrastructure. This is an area where Australia can collaborate with India.

COCHRANE: And the Indian government has stuck to its guns and gone through with some of the key reforms it was looking to pass. How important for foreign investors and for Australia is further economic reform in India?

EMERSON: Well, we welcome the signals that the Indian Government is sending through the opening-up that's going on now. After all, it was the current Prime Minister, as finance minister in 1991, who began the opening-up of India, which has liberated tens of millions of people from poverty. And it's very difficult to achieve poverty alleviation out of a stagnant economy. You can achieve it much more readily out of a growing economy, and I know that's what the Indian Government is committed to doing. The Prime Minister is very committed to spreading the benefits of growth, but you do need the growth in the first place – and that is recognised by the Indian authorities.

So those signals for foreign investment are most welcome. If there were more, they would be welcome too. But we have a fantastic relationship with our counterparts in India; myself with Anand Sharma, the Trade and Commerce Minister. We know Prime Minister Singh well and we wish the Indian Government all the very best in its endeavours to continue, not only opening the economy, but spreading the benefits of growth right through the Indian population.

COCHRANE: When you do meet up with your counterparts in India, what do they ask of you and of Australian businesses? What did they want from Australian trade?

EMERSON: I think it's diversification of the trade, and that's fair enough. From both sides, it's very much related to minerals and energy commodities, to gold and jewellery. And yet India has a very, very strong service economy, and Australia, too, is not just a producer and exporter of minerals and energy. In fact, 80 per cent of our jobs are in the services sector. So we think that we can use the Asian Century White Paper as a road map to diversifying the relationship with great nations such as India, with which we have such a strong and warm relationship. I mean this is one of the great democracies of the world, and we see fantastic potential in the Australia-India relationship. They would probably want to put a fair bit of extra effort into that, because we know that India can still grow very, very strongly. It can lift its productivity growth rate. And we have this great global food security challenge, and I think there are real opportunities there, not only for the people of India, but also for our Australian farmers. I think we may be the biggest chickpea exporter to India – a fact that's now widely known, but that's a symbol of the sorts of relationships that we can cultivate.

COCHRANE: Of course one of the biggest and perhaps thorniest issues in terms of Australia-India trade has been uranium. In December last year, the Labor Government changed its policy and agreed in principle to sell uranium to India. We're coming up to a year on from that. Has there been any progress?

EMERSON: There has been some progress, but I think the very decision of lifting that ban was important to the Government of India and to the people of India. We will get ahead and negotiate the necessary protocols to bring that into actual implementation. It wasn't so much that India was desperately looking for uranium around the world – you couldn't get it. It was really that there was some resentment about Australia's position on selling uranium to India. That's the truth of the matter. That matter has now been rectified and we'll get on and complete the negotiations on the necessary protocols.

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