Download the FREE SBS Radio App for a better listening experience
Business opportunities between Australia and India are set to receive a boost with a new Consulate-General of Australia opening in Kolkata.
In an announcement in the Federal Budget, the federal government said that the focus of Australia’s international trade will now shift towards India, to "protect and advance" Australia's interests in a "changing Indo-Pacific".
The $10.8 million Consulate-General in Kolkata will be established particularly to encourage business with India’s growing mining sector.
Currently, Mumbai and Chennai have Australian Consulates-General, apart from the Australian High Commission in New Delhi.
The business community is welcoming the announcement.
“We have felt for long that there were pockets in India that were untapped by Australia, including the eastern states. This has come at a very opportune time when India Economic Strategy is also going to be coming out soon,” said Sheba Nandkeolyar, the national chair of the Australia-India Business Council.
Ms Nandkeolyar says there are significant opportunities in the eastern coastal plains.
“Mining is important for Australia and it’s also important for India. The Australian government has now realised the significance of it in the eastern seaboard of India and is trying to tap this opportunity,” she says.
According to Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade statistics, bilateral trade between Australia and India was just under $20 billion in 2015-16 with major Australian exports being coal, education-related travel, vegetable products and gold. Major Indian imports to Australia include refined petroleum, personal travel, business services and medicaments and pearls and gems.
Australian High Commissioner to India, Harinder Sidhu said the announcement cements Australia’s commitment to India as a first tier partnership.
“The Consulate-General in Kolkata will strengthen bilateral trade and investment, particularly in the mining and resources sectors. We look forward to strengthening our engagement with West Bengal and surrounding states," said Ms Sidhu.
Ms Nandkeolyar said that while the trade dice is currently loaded in Australia’s favour, the development augurs well for improvement of bilateral trade.
“The commitment to the bilateral business relationship has never been stronger than it is now.
“India is now an important tier one country for us. And the recent trade figures show India’s trade deficit with Australia is reducing,” she told SBS Punjabi.
In 2017, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visited India and announced the commissioning of an independent India Economic Strategy to identify opportunities for Australian businesses in India.
The strategy - led by former DFAT Secretary and High Commissioner to India Peter Varghese - is expected to be released in the coming weeks.
Talks over a Comprehensive Economic Co-operation Agreement between India and Australia that was originally meant to be finalised by the end of 2015, have come to a virtual standstill.
But both Mr Turnbull and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said both countries remained committed to the agreement.