Describing India as an "emerging democratic superpower", Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott today kicked off his two-day India visit during which the two countries are likely to clinch an elusive civil nuclear deal.
Abbott, the first Head of Government outside the leaders of SAARC nations to visit the country after the inauguration of the Narendra Modi government, said he wants to make the most of "an abundance of opportunities" for business in India.
".....This is a country which has amazed the world over the last few decades with its growth and its development – the world’s second most populous country; on purchasing power terms, the world’s third largest economy, clearly, the emerging democratic superpower of the world and a country with which Australia has long and warm ties.
"The purpose of this trip, as far as I am concerned, is to acknowledge the importance of India in the wider world, acknowledge the importance of India to Australia’s future, to let the government and the people of India know what Australia has to offer India and the wider world for our part, and to build on those stronger foundations," he said addressing a 30-member business delegation accompanying him on the trip at Hotel Taj Palace in Mumbai, his first port of call.
Noting how India has changed "enormously" since his last visit 33 years ago as a backpacker, Abbott, who has expressed keenness to sign a nuclear deal with the country, said," I can remember on my first day in Mumbai watching a bullock cart take material into a nuclear power station.
"Well, 33 years on, there aren’t that many bullock carts left in urban India, and the power stations – the nuclear power stations – are more sophisticated than ever," he said.
Abbott, who will have wide-ranging talks with Prime Minister Modi in New Delhi tomorrow, said the Indian leader's call "come, make in India" is "close in spirit and in intent" to the phrase he had used in respect of Australia that "we are open for business".
He said though there is no dearth of opportunities elsewhere in the vicinity of Australia, there is "an abundance of opportunities" in India.
"I am determined to make the most of them, I know all of you are determined to make the most of them and I look forward to working very closely with you and with our Indian interlocutors over the next two days," he told the delegation.
Abbott met some Indian business leaders and CEOs, who also held talks with the visiting Australian business delegation.
The meeting was attended by SBI chairwoman Arundhati Bhattacharya, ICICI managing director and chief executive Chanda Kochhar, IDFC executive chairman Rajiv Lall and Kotak group vice chairman and managing director Uday Kotak among others.
"We discussed investment opportunities in various sectors such as energy, water resources, education, skill development, finance and capital markets at the trade delegation meeting," Bhattcharya told PTI emerging from the meeting.
Kotak said he discussed investment opportunities for Australian businesses with trade delegation, during the luncheon meeting, adding "China's trade with Australia is 10 times larger than ours with them and the gap needs to be narrowed."
In line with Modi's emphasis on the development of the youth, Abbott also launched the 'New Colombo Plan', the signature initiative of the Australian government which aims at enhancing the knowledge of the Indo-Pacific in Australia by supporting undergraduates from that country to study and undertake internships in the region.
"Presently, there are thousands of Indian students studying in Australian universities, but there are very few Australian students here. This will change now. Australian students will now come here to study. From next year onwards, there will be hundreds and thousands of Australian students studying in India," Abbott said addressing a gathering at Mumbai University.
Colombo plan is a collective inter-governmental effort to strengthen economic and social development of member countries in the Asia-Pacific region. The primary focus of all Colombo Plan activities is on human resource development.
Though formally the organization was born out of a Commonwealth Conference of Foreign Ministers held in Sri Lankan capital Colombo in January 1950 with only seven countries, including India and Australia, it has now transformed into a into a truly international initiative with 27 member nations with inclusion of non-Commonwealth countries.
"In 1950, when the Colombo plan was launched, about 14000 Indian students came to Australia for studies. We now want to return the favour to India and send some of our best students to study here," Abbott said.
Abbott, who later left for Delhi, will hold talks with the top Indian leadership including the President, Vice President, Prime Minister and External Affairs Minister tomorrow.
There are strong signals of an elusive nuclear deal coming to fruition after his talks with Modi.
"I am hoping to sign a nuclear co-operation agreement that will enable uranium sales by Australia to India," he had told Australian Parliament ahead of his visit to India.
Australia has about a third of the world's recoverable uranium resources and exports nearly 7,000 tonnes a year.
The two countries have had five rounds of talks since the Labor Party reversed its decision to ban uranium sale to India because of New Delhi not being a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty despite being an atomic power, but a nuclear deal could not be clinched.
Abbott has said he wants a nuclear pact with adequate bilateral safeguards.
Trade Minister Andrew Robb, accompanying Abbott on the trip, said, "While India is Australia's fifth biggest export market and a valued investment partner there is enormous scope to deepen the relationship."
"Our two-way trade is worth around 15 billion dollars, however, our aim is to substantially grow this figure, when you consider our trade with China for example is worth more than 150 billion dollars," Robb said.