ABWI 2017 Gala Dinner Address

  • Speech, check against delivery
New Delhi, India

It's a great honour to be leading Australia's 2017 business mission to India. I particularly thank the more than 170 business delegates from Australia. Your presence here this week underscores the growing engagement between our two nations.

In his 2010 autobiography, Australia's former Prime Minister John Howard reflected on the Australia-India relationship, noting:

"The common British connection had brought us together in both world wars, and we were linked by language and law… (and) of course cricket!…"

Not content to rest on these laurels, the quest for stronger ties between India and Australia continues.

India is emerging as one of Australia's most important partners, in strategic terms but also in trade and investment, research and innovation.

Australia is enthusiastic about India's current trajectory. In particular, I welcome Prime Minister Modi's priority on improving the business environment. Growth and investment will be critical to meeting the demands of India's growing middle class – led by an increasingly skilled, educated and tech savvy youth.

Australia stands ready to be a key partner of choice throughout this journey.

Prime Minister Turnbull's announcement of a new India Economic Strategy – to be delivered to government early next year – is especially relevant for all of us here tonight. It is great to have the strategy lead Peter Varghese – himself a former Australian High Commissioner to India – here with us this evening.

Having just come from the Australia India CEO Forum, I can attest that business leaders from both countries are just as enthusiastic as their governments about deepening our ties.

Our people-to-people links are growing dramatically. There are some 619,000 Australians with Indian ancestry and more than 60,000 Indians who study in Australia. As Australia's Minister for Tourism, alongside trade and investment, I am particularly pleased that tourism is growing rapidly in both directions.

All of you here this evening are a key part of deepening those ties. Whilst governments set the framework, it is ultimately businesses that will bring people together and deepen the India-Australia trade and investment relationship.

India-Australia trade has almost doubled over the past decade and now stands at about $21 billion a year in two-way terms.

Despite India being our sixth biggest export market in 2016, there is more to be done.

By 2030, India is projected to be the third largest economy in the world, with the largest population.

It is at a crucial stage in its journey from a closed, protectionist economy to an open and engaged global power. At such tipping points, it's often helpful to reach out to friends and partners such as Australia, who can share their own development and reform experiences.

India's colossal demographic shift from rural to urban areas reflects its transition from an agricultural society to one based more on manufacturing and technology.

About 10 million people from rural areas move to cities each year and more than half of India's population is under 25 years old.

By 2025, India will have 69 cities with a population of more than one million people.

The pace and scale of these transformations will shape our commercial ties.

Another factor that will shape those ties is India's economic reform program.

Prime Minister Modi's program – including a national GST, easing foreign investment restrictions and sector-specific reforms –is ambitious, impressive and extensive.

Australians get what economic reform is all about. A generation ago, we commenced a period of significant structural economic transformation. In part as a result of that, we've had a 26-year record of continuous growth.

Over this period we deregulated our economy by reducing protection, floating the currency and introducing greater competition and privatisation.

At the same time we set about expanding our network of Free Trade Agreements and kick-started a long process of economic integration with Asia. That process of reform continues today.

We know that just as our reforms worked, so too, will India's.

More than that, we believe there is a complementarity to our economies that will emerge increasingly as India's reform program rolls out and the pace of its modernisation intensifies.

Through the Economic Strategy I referenced earlier, Australia is undertaking the analysis to identify where our businesses – many of whom are in the room tonight – should be India's partner of choice on this journey.

A good example of this complementarity is Australia's capability in services that make a smart city work well in the 21st century.

By 2030, India's cities are expected to have a population of about 590 million people. And the Indian Government has committed about US$7 billion specifically to develop the infrastructure required for an initial group of Smart Cities.

By 2022, Prime Minister Modi seeks to create 100 Smart Cities connectivity, e-governance along with quality infrastructure such as waste management and efficient public transport. On the broader front, India's investment target for infrastructure is about US$376.53 billion over three years.

As one of the world's most urbanised societies, Australians know a lot about urban planning, water and energy management, and green design.

Challenging climatic conditions have encouraged us to adapt and invent solutions to the built environment that we can share with other nations.

Our cities have clean air and water and are eminently liveable. In fact, Melbourne has once again been named the world's most liveable city – for the seventh year in a row – according to the Economist Intelligence Unit's Liveability Index.

In large part, this comes down to the skills of Australian businesses in such areas as urban design, energy conservation, water management, and intelligent transport systems.

Australia's skills can, in short, directly assist in the success of India's Smart Cities vision.

India's understandable quest for food and energy security is another area where Australian capability has much to offer.

Australia's two biggest merchandise exports to India in 2016 were coal and pulses. Exports of gold and copper were also solid.

Our future relationship could also benefit from deeper commercial linkages between Indian and Australian mining services.

Australia's agribusiness expertise is vast and internationally recognised. Bilateral agribusiness partnerships will help aid improvements to agricultural quality, safety and efficiency.

It covers everything from efficient farming techniques, food processing, plant breeding, farming machinery, grain storage, to supply chain management and food safety – and R&D.

On the dairy front, Australian expertise, training and technologies are well placed to help increase the efficiency of India's dairy industry – and we can do much more.

In the resource sector, Australia's world-class mining equipment, technology and services providers – or METS providers –are well-placed to support India in meeting its ambitious mining targets, mine safety concerns and '24x7 Power for All' agenda.

Australia has world-leading expertise right across the mining supply chain – from exploration, and engineering, processing to environmental planning and mine safety. I welcome many from this sector who have travelled from Australia this week – and I encourage lots of collaboration on future challenges.

Greater science and research collaboration is central to Australia's commercial future with India.

With India's rapidly rising middle class, many are looking abroad for exciting educational opportunities, and Australia's education and training systems are well-placed to aid this growth.

At the same time, there is a looming demand for skilled workers in India.

As part of its modernisation drive, the Indian Government aims to train hundreds of millions of people by 2022. Australia's excellent vocational education system, including our online capability, can play a significant role in helping India achieve its goals.

About 60,000 Indian students studied in Australia last year, making it the second most popular destination for Indian students after the US. And they came for good reason.

Australia has some of the best universities in the world and some of the most advanced and creative research institutes in the life sciences, medicine, food and agriculture and resources and energy.

Australia's universities rank in the top 100 in all three standard measures of higher education performance.

Five are in the top 50 and seven in the top 100, putting Australia third after the US and the UK in terms of the QS World University Rankings. Apart from higher education institutions, Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation – or CSIRO – is one of the world's leading agencies for new ideas and innovation.

With strong research infrastructure, there is great scope for deeper commercialisation and collaboration between Indian and Australian companies. Like Australia, the international rules-based trading system is key to India's future prosperity.

On the trade agreement front, whilst we continue to work towards a comprehensive bilateral trade agreement with India, it is important that we are realistic in terms of timing. It is important that any trade agreement is high quality and delivers meaningful outcomes for both countries.

There are always tough issues to work through in trade negotiations, and this is no different. This coming week demonstrates that there are many other ways to enhance our two-way trade and investment relationship with India.

Business missions such as this week are all about applying the spirit of free and open trade.

This week you will all have the opportunity to build the all-important personal links with fellow exporters and investors.

I thank Austrade for organising this mission and I wish you all well in your commercial endeavours this week.

Media enquiries