At the Australia-India Foreign Ministers' Framework Dialogue in Melbourne on 20 January, the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kevin Rudd, and the Indian Minister of External Affairs, S.M. Krishna, had detailed discussions on bilateral, regional and global issues of mutual interest. The discussions reinforced the growing convergence of interests, perspectives and assessments on the part of Australia and India.
The Ministers reiterated their firm commitment to developing and expanding the Strategic Partnership agreed at Prime Ministerial level in November 2009. They underlined the importance of maintaining regular two-way high-level political and official dialogue to deepen bilateral relations.
International and regional cooperation
The Ministers had extensive and detailed discussions about international and regional issues.
They noted the significant capacity for enhanced regional cooperation, including through the East Asia Summit (EAS). The Ministers welcomed the recent admission of the United States and Russia into the EAS and looked forward to working together to strengthen the EAS agenda in 2011. Mr Rudd welcomed India's Nalanda University initiative as an important step for promoting deeper understanding throughout the region. Ministers agreed to regular senior officials consultations on the East Asia Summit.
The Ministers looked forward to the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth in October 2011, noting that the Commonwealth brings together countries from every continent to work together in addressing the challenges which confront all of us. Mr Rudd said Australia looked forward to hosting a visit by Prime Minister Singh at the time of CHOGM.
The Ministers reiterated their intention to continue working together closely in the G20, the premier forum for international economic cooperation. Noting that Australia and India both have resilient and strongly performing economies, the Ministers stressed that the G-20 had a vital role to play in working towards continued prosperity and stability in the global economy. The Ministers agreed that the recent reforms to the International Financial Institutions constituted a landmark achievement for the G20.
The Ministers noted that India's participation in both the G20 and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in 2011-12 presented an opportunity for increased cooperation to meet global challenges. Mr Rudd reiterated Australia's strong and long-standing support for a permanent seat for India on the UNSC.
The Ministers welcomed the decision to establish a Defence Policy Dialogue, the inaugural Talks of which were held in New Delhi in December 2010.
The Ministers reiterated their strong support for nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.
Mr. S.M. Krishna welcomed Australia's participation as an Observer in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) for the first time in 2010 at the Summit in Bhutan. Mr Rudd confirmed Australia's commitment to its engagement with South Asia and the Indian Ocean region and referred to the contribution Australia was making within SAARC, through a project to promote food security, better water usage and agricultural production.
Mr. S.M. Krishna said India looked forward to hosting the IOR-ARC Council of Ministers meeting in mid-2011 and to working closely with Australia and other members to drive forward projects of regional interest, which will provide practical benefits to the full range of IOR-ARC membership. The Ministers underlined that Australia and India have a common interest in the Indian Ocean and open sea lines of communication. Mr Rudd reiterated Australia's commitment, as Vice Chair of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation (IOR-ARC), to supporting India in its role of Chair in 2010 and 2011. Ministers agreed to regular senior officials consultations on IOR-ARC.
The Ministers stressed the importance of an effective and comprehensive global response to climate change and noted India's key role in achieving a successful outcome at the Cancun conference of parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in December 2010.
Mr Rudd and Mr. S.M. Krishna noted that India and Australia were united in the fight against terrorism. Looking forward to the next meeting of the bilateral Joint Working Group on Counter-Terrorism in 2011, they noted the need for practical cooperation in areas such as intelligence, police cooperation, terrorist financing and money laundering.
They welcomed the entry into force of the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Treaty and the Extradition Treaty on 20 January 2011.
Political links continue to expand with a new young political leaders' exchange program in place. Ministers welcomed the visit to India from 29 November to 3 December 2010 by rising political leaders from Australia, building strong links and helping to deepen mutual understanding. Mr Rudd said that Australia looked forward to hosting a Parliamentary delegation in the near future.
The bilateral economic relationship has continued to strengthen. India is now Australia's third largest overall export market and fifth largest trade partner. Australia is India's 6th largest trading partner.
There were significant new two-way investments in 2010, particularly by India in the resources and energy sector. Mr Rudd welcomed the growing interest by Indian companies in investing in Australia.
In May 2010 the Australian and Indian Governments had noted the recommendations of the Australia-India Free Trade Agreement Joint Feasibility Study and that both sides were undertaking further internal processes. Mr. S.M. Krishna noted that the trade imbalance with Australia was the second largest that India had with any of its trading partners. He urged greater flexibility and requested for early action and on issues that impacted on India's exports to Australia, especially in service exports (information technology) and products such as pharmaceuticals, mangoes and table grapes.
Mr Rudd noted that Australia had an open market and welcomed Indian trade and investment.
Australia and India are committed to cooperating closely in efforts to bring the Doha Round to a successful, ambitious, comprehensive and balanced conclusion within the 2011 window of opportunity identified by G20 Leaders at their Seoul Summit.
Mr Rudd said Australia looked forward to hosting in 2011 the next Joint Ministerial Commission on trade and economic issues and an Indian delegation to the inaugural CEOs Forum.
The Ministers noted the importance of cooperation in the resources and energy sector. The first biennial Australia-India Energy and Minerals Forum, held in Perth in 2010, set the stage for closer collaboration, building on the five strategic Action Plans (Coal, New and Renewable Energy, Mining and Minerals, Power, Petroleum and Natural Gas) signed in 2008.
The Ministers noted measures taken by the Australian Government and states and territories in 2010 to address concerns over the safety and well being of Indian students in Australia. They welcomed the Council of Australian Governments' International Students Strategy for Australia, launched in October 2010, and progress with implementation of recommendations from the Baird Review of the Education Services for Overseas Students Act to improve further the experience of international students in Australia. This includes strengthening students' consumer protection rights and cooperation between the two countries to support the regulation of education agents.
The Ministers also noted that the next Joint Working Group on Education and Training is expected to be held in Australia in April 2011 and the annual Education Minister's dialogue in India in September 2011. The establishment of a new Australia-India Education Council will be further progressed through these meetings.
Mr. S.M. Krishna noted that the changes in the skilled migration programme had significantly impacted on Indian students already studying in Australia, many of whom had taken heavy loans to pursue their studies. He requested consideration of Indian students who had come to Australia under the old rules being placed in a special category that allowed them to fulfil the demand that existed in Australia for their skills.
Mr Rudd noted the components of the 8 February 2010 changes to skilled migration in Australia and highlighted the generous transition arrangements for most holders of international student visas at the time of the changes. Mr Rudd also noted Australia's review of its student visa program, announced in December 2010 and expected to be completed in mid-2011.
The Ministers welcomed the contribution, which the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund (AISRF) is making to the strong growth in cooperation in science and research, one of the most dynamic parts of the bilateral relationship. They noted that since its launch in 2006, the AISRF had supported over seventy innovative joint projects between Indian and Australian researchers and leading Australian and Indian institutions in strategically selected areas of scientific endeavours, including renewable energy, nanotechnology, agricultural research and biotechnology.
Mr Rudd highlighted that Australia's commitment of $65 million over the current life of the Fund, which is matched by the Government of India, made the AISRF Australia's largest fund dedicated to bilateral research with any country. Mr. S.M. Krishna noted that the Fund was one of India's largest sources of support for international science.
The India - Australia relationship is underpinned by diverse and growing people-to-people links. The Indian community in Australia now numbers over 300,000 people and is making a most valuable contribution to building Australian society. Cultural and artistic links continue apace. The Indian Council for Cultural Relations has been increasingly supporting these links. In November 2010, it sponsored a Rajasthani folk music and dance troupe to visit 9 cities in Australia including towns hitherto not covered such as Townsville and Ballarat.
2012 has been designated as the Year of Australia in India.
Mr Rudd conveyed his felicitations for India's successful hosting of the New Delhi Commonwealth Games.
Sport has long been an enduring bond between India and Australia. These links have been strengthened by the Australian Sports Outreach Program in India, launched in New Delhi during the 2010 Commonwealth Games and the growing interaction between sportsmen of the two countries across a wide range of sporting disciplines. Mr. S.M. Krishna said India was looking forward to hosting Australia at the 2011 Cricket World Cup.
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