India’s 1.3b people could be Australia’s next great trading hope

The business relationship between India and Australia has had many false starts.

But a growing population of Indian-Australians, and a greater understanding of the potential of the world’s largest democracy, is prompting Australian business to try harder.

A conference of young entrepreneurs from the two nations has been looking for ways to supercharge the relationship in the next decade, attempting to make India a trading partner on the scale of China and Japan.

Speaking at the Australia India Youth Dialogue, former secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Varghese urged local entrepreneurs to embrace the chaos and diversity of India.

“There is no other single market in the world that has more growth opportunities for Australia than India,” he said.

“So if you work backwards from that headline, the question is, how do we best position ourselves strategically?”

Mr Varghese was commissioned by the Federal Government to report on our business relationship and develop a strategy to improve it.

To him, the 700,000 Indians now calling Australia home — a number that has spiked since 2006 — are a good place to start.

“In the long-term they’ll prove to be a very important connecting thread between Australia and India and that will feed back into the business trade and investment relationship,” he said.

“Because the diaspora will play a role in helping navigate Indian business culture, in terms of expanding contacts, in terms of finding partners — all of the things that are grist to the mill of a successful business strategy in India.”

Australia’s current top trading partners are China ($195 billion), Japan ($78 billion), the US ($70 billion), South Korea ($52 billion) and, then, India ($29 billion).

The report recommends an ambitious target: to make India one of our top three export destinations by 2035.

It is not an impossible goal. India’s population is more than 1.3 billion people, but just a year before the 2017-18 figures above, Australia did more trade with our near neighbour New Zealand, and it has a smaller population than Melbourne.

ustralia targets agribusiness, resources and tourism

Mr Varghese’s report, ‘An India Economic Strategy to 2035’, looks at what we have to offer to India, and who might be interested in buying it.

It suggests parlaying our successful export of education into three key fields — agribusiness, resources and tourism — and six “promising sectors” — energy, health, financial services, infrastructure, sport, and science and innovation.

With the first three, the plan is to be inside the top five providers within the next two decades.

Similarly, instead of tackling India’s diverse and vast landscape, it wants to focus efforts in just ten of India’s 36 states and territories: Maharashtra, Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, West Bengal, Punjab, the National Capital Region of Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.

The report says these states have greater stability in the “access to land, regulation of labour, provision of infrastructure, the application and interpretation of regulation” needed for foreign businesses to succeed.

Management consultant Jasmin Craufurd-Hill, attending the dialogue, said better relationships can be built off the back of our success in attracting secondary and university students from India.

“When we look at what’s the third largest trade, for Australia, for export, it’s education [and] the second largest population of that student population is Indian students,” she noted.

“What can we learn from that? What can we learn from building up similarities and understanding that then has the potential over the years to fully develop as trade and other relationships?”

Australia hasn’t ‘deepened that connection’ with India

Amit Singh has worked as a policy analyst for prime ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

He is now based in San Francisco, working for Uber as their head of global policy for work, and sees the current relationship between India and Australia as broad but not effective.

“We just haven’t deepened that. I think if you think about the things we have in common: we’ve got the Commonwealth, we’ve got curry, we’ve got cricket, but we haven’t really deepened that connection,” he said.