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Trans-Tasman partnership can boost ties with India

The recent electoral victory of centre-right Liberal party Leader Tony Abbott over the left-leaning Labour Party in Australia is viewed with interest by policymakers and politicians in New Zealand and India.

While the preceding Government, headed by Kevin Rudd in the first instance and Julia Gillard in the second instance (in both instances both were ousted by the other) was busy with internal politics, Mr Abbott would have no such problem.

He has a clear mandate and his Party displays greater unity than Labour.

Indo-Pacific Agenda

Canberra can now look for better engagement with the developing world, especially India, pushing its ‘Indo-Pacific’ agenda (like many others do).

In retrospect, it is apparent that under the Labour Government, both Prime Ministers could have handled many issues related to Indian students, Uranium export to India and China’s increased military assertiveness in Asia with greater attention and intent.

India’s bilateral trade with Australia is worth US$ 20 billion, growing at an impressive 20% every year. India would like to use its economic clout for a greater strategic relationship with Australia and sign a Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

Politically, with the increasing possibility of conservative right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coming to power, Australia would do well to consider its options to get closer to the emerging economic giant.

Strategic Cooperation

This would lead to greater strategic co-operation between the two countries based on their political and economic priorities. Such priorities would in turn be based on hard power-politics and supporting a strong military.

The much awaited Indo-Australian Strategic Cooperation will strengthen ties and improve chances for a free trade pact.

ANZ relations

Australia is a favourite destination not only for New Zealand products but also for Kiwis, with more than 200,000 living and working across the vast Continent.

However, they do not enjoy a number of rights given to Australian citizens such as voting, citizenship and social welfare, whereas Australians living in New Zealand enjoy equal status with their Kiwi counterparts.

In terms of an agreement signed almost 40 years ago, New Zealanders can visit Australia, and live and work without any type of visa. However, the John Howard Government effected several changes during its tenure – changes that are seen as discriminatory in New Zealand.

Mr Abbott told New Zealand Prime Minister John Key during the latter’s visit to Australia on October 2 that his Government would not change the current policy.

The argument raised by Kiwis is that Australians are granted residency on arrival in New Zealand, followed by benefits, right to vote and other privileges enjoyed by New Zealand citizens.

Lobbyists and observers in New Zealand will closely watch the strategic orientation of the Abbot Government and examine whether Wellington should realign its policies and programmes to boost Trans-Tasman relations.

However, Mr Abbott would woo Indian investors and students to boost his country’s economic prospects.

New avenues

It is too early to predict how Indo-Aussie relationship will evolve after India’s elections in 2014 but indications are that efforts would be made by both sides to find new avenues for bilateral cooperation.

Australia understands the significance of getting closer to India, which will soon become the world’s largest supplier of educated and young labour force and one of the most powerful economies in the world.

Canberra would carefully weigh the advantages of closing ranks with India by even relaxing its otherwise tough immigration policy.

Much would depend on the direction that the country would take under a new regime.

If Mr Modi becomes Prime Minister, there could be a shift in India’s Asia-Pacific Policy, with Australia and New Zealand becoming major beneficiaries.

Indo-Kiwi ties

New Zealand can also look forward to a new era of cooperation and friendship with India during the third term of Mr Key as the Prime Minister.

Even if the fortunes are reversed and a Labour Government comes into office with David Cunliffe as the Prime Minister, Indo-Kiwi relations would receive a major boost.

On either side of the equation, there would be gainful bilateral ties between India and Australia and India and New Zealand. But the best of the three worlds can be achieved if Australia and New Zealand seek a joint approach with India.

Photo :

No policy change: John Key with Tony Abbott on October 2

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