Andrew Robb woos India on free trade deal

28 April 2015

Written by Rowan Callick. Source: The Australian

Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb returned to India last week for his third visit in seven months, to maintain pressure on the ambitious goal of securing a free trade agreement this year.

“It won’t be easy, but it certainly remains an achievable goal,” he said.

Mr Robb’s focus on this visit has been on opportunities for the service sector.

He has participated, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and key members of his economic team, in the inaugural Global Exhibition on Services in New Delhi, and in other services and investment roundtables.

He has written an opinion article prominently displayed in leading Indian newspaper The Hindu, in which he anticipates a massive role for Australia alongside India in services sector growth.

He wrote: “It’s easy to see why China is eager to learn from India’s success in developing a competitive and export-oriented services industry.”

Taking a leaf from Chinese President Xi Jinping’s core vision, he says India has the potential to be at the centre of a new “Services Silk Road” to drive growth in the region.

And he said that “under Mr Modi’s strong leadership, Australia sees India as being on the path to challenge our mutual friend and partner, the US, for the title of the world’s leading English-speaking country”.

Mr Robb said services represented about 70 per cent of Australia’s economy, but only 15 per cent of exports.

“This is an export we are determined to grow and there are strong prospects with India across a wide range of ser­vices ... on account of its rising middle class — as a critical input to other sectors and as a major export in their own right.”

There was also significant scope to grow the two-way investment relationship.

He wrote that, while Indian IT services had transformed operations across a wide range of industries globally, “this era of transformation has a way to go”.

“You don’t need to spend long in India to see the flair and creativity that Indian service providers are bringing to the market — be it in tourism, health or retail. India’s human capital is also driving services innovation globally — whether it’s the IT graduates who play such an oversized role in Silicon Valley, or the Indian-born CEOs of the world’s leading companies and universities.

“All of this suggests that India’s services sector stands to benefit enormously from trade and investment liberalisation.”

And as a trusted strategic partner of India’s, he wrote in The Hindu, Australia can play an important role. “For Australia, like India, is something of a services superpower.

“Australia is renowned for its mining and agriculture sectors ... so it’s perhaps a secret that our biggest export is services, which account for over 40 per cent of our valued-added export earnings.”

And he perceives “tremendous synergies between dynamic sectors in Australia and India” — including health and aged care, education, IT, legal and accounting services, financial services, insurance and architecture.

India is now the largest source of skilled migrants to Australia, he wrote, and the second-largest source of international students.h

He said: “Some of the most exciting opportunities are in agriculture: Australian dairy cows are five times more productive than Indian cows, a gap that can be narrowed — to the great benefit of India’s farmers — by investment and technology transfer.