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The Prime Minister’s Visit to India: A Mixed Success

There was obviously a lot of good will extended during the Prime Minister’s visit to India but not a lot in the way of concrete results.

Mr Turnbull was accompanied on his trip by 120 players from the education and training sector who were making a pitch to be part of India’s program to upskill 400 million Indian workers and to increase the number of Indian students coming to Australia.

It’s likely that many of the benefits from the mission will be realised from the contacts between education sector operators and their Indian counterparts.

The Prime Minister had three core issues that he wanted to focus on at head of government level: trade, energy and security.

On trade it soon became obvious that Tony Abbott’s push for a free trade agreement was dead in the water.

Mr Turnbull said that Australia had to be realistic about the deal and finalisation of a treaty was likely to be years away.

Officials were of the view that the Australian agreement had been pushed down the priority list while the Indians concentrated on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership

(RCEP), the multinational agreement that’s being negotiated between ASEAN, China, Japan, India, Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

It appears that there are two sticking points that are fundamental to the conclusion of a free trade agreement: India has resisted Australia’s demand that it open up its market to agricultural products, arguing that could endanger the livelihood of the vast number of small-scale farmers in India, and is also pressing for higher levels of skilled migration from India to Australia.

Mr Turnbull has resisted this saying that Australia’s skilled migration program is specifically targeted in the national interest.

The two leaders agreed that free trade talks should continue and that they should set priorities for negotiation.

In the meantime the Prime Minister has announced the establishment of a high level Independent India Economic Strategy enquiry, to be led by former DFAT head Peter Varghese, to examine how to consolidate the economic ties between Australia and India.

The Prime Minister stressed Australia’s advantages as a supplier of energy raw materials and technology.

He also met with Gautam Adani, chairman of the Adani Group which is, among other things, the biggest supplier of renewable energy in India.

They discussed the Carmichael mine and Mr Turnbull agreed to push through the amendments to the native title act which is presently a risk to the mine.

Mr Adani asked about a $900 million loan for a railway line linking the mine to the port and the Prime Minister said this was a matter for the Northern Australia Investment Fund.

The two countries agreed to further security co-operation but the issue was soft pedalled to avoid antagonising China.

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