After 27 years in the making, the Australia India Business Council (AIBC) headed by National Chair Dipen Rughani and National Vice Chair Sheba Nandkeolyar is now the peak body of Australia- India trade relations, which has grown from $3.3 billion in 2000 to over $15 billion in 2013.
The Australia India Business Council Ltd (AIBC) is a national membership organisation with active branches in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Canberra. Founded in 1986, it is the only national body representing bi-lateral trade and investment relations between Australia and India. AIBC was registered as a company limited by guarantee in 2012 and a new constitution for the organisation was also registered in 2012. The AIBC maintains close relationships with federal and state government agencies, the diplomatic corps and industry bodies, and showcases opportunities to the Australian business community through an active program of events nationally.
But what is the secret to their success?
At the event, it was noticeable that this annual event was growing in strength and number. There was close to 500 people, some who got added in the last minute leading to the event. It was also found that, the initial amount of tables had to be increased to cater for this growing number of attendees, with at least 12 to 13 people seated on one table.
In a community that has seen a growing fragmentation of organisations and associations, AIBC it seems to have ridden this wave of business cohesion quite well. On a personal tete-a-tete with Sam Dutt, the person who brought it all together, she mentioned about the difficulty in organising for such a large gathering with last minute additions and increasing the holding capacity. But overall, it was pulled together well. There seems to be not one particular secret to AIBC’s success other than pointing out that the business community knows who to approach and AIBC’s record speaks for itself. AIBC’s New South Wales chapter led the first delegation to Gujarat when Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister and became part of the ‘Vibrant Gujarat’ initiative, bringing like-minded business together. Likewise, AIBC’s other state chapters are busy building the business bridge to increase this two-way bilateral relation.
Among the distinguished guests were Ms. Margie Abbott, wife of the Prime Minister representing him; Ms Julie Bishop, Minister for Foreign Affairs; Mr Mike Baird, Premier of New South Wales; Mr Victor Dominello, NSW Minister for Citizenship and Communities, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Assistant Minister for Education; and Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells. Also present were His Excellency Biren Nanda, High Commissioner of India to Australia; Mr Sanjay Sudhir, Consul General of India in Sydney; AIBC National Chairman Dipen Rughani, National Vice Chair Sheba Nandkeolyar, AIBC NSW President John Cox and AIBC NSW Vice President Sameer Arora.
There was a distinct air of anticipation as guests congregated in the lobby prior to entering the hall, while representatives from the Indian and Australian business community exchanged pleasantries and news. Flashes of colour from Indian ethnic outfits glimpsed amidst the majority of business attire lend a touch of gaiety to the event.
The White Paper for Cooperation
In further show of unity, in a joint initiative of Australia India Business Council (AIBC) and Australia India Institute (AII), the white paper for strengthening cooperation, was presented to Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop and is also expected to be presented to Prime Minister Abbott before his visit to India early next month.
The white paper has sought inking of a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) on “top priority” and called for fast engagement with the new Narendra Modi-led government. The white paper has suggested specific directions in which the government should proceed, breaking it industry-wise.
It also provides information on Modi as a leader, his government’s economic policies and its major goals for Australia to understand where and how to invest in the relationship.
The paper has been released before the two global leaders meet this year. Modi is expected to visit Brisbane for G20 summit in November this year after Abbott’s visit next month.
The NSW perspective
The Hon Mike Baird, Premier of NSW emphasised the state’s commitment to fostering strong Indo-Oz relationships saying, “Tourism, infrastructure projects in energy and transport, and financial services are key areas for both NSW and India to establish business relationships.”
Mr Biren Nanda, High Commissioner of India to Australia also emphasised the importance of Indo- Oz relations and the need to develop and enhance trade, economic and cultural ties between the two countries. Sheba Nandkeolyar, AIBC National Vice Chair spoke about AIBC’s long-standing and deeply entrenched commitment towards promoting bilateral ties between Australia and India. She emphasised the role the AIBC plays in fostering these ties by working closely with various associations in India, and in hosting and organising trade delegations to and from both countries.
Koffee with Kartik
The highlight of the evening however, was a Q&A session between Brett Lee and MC Kartik
Mohandas conducted in the form of a casual conversation in a cosy setup on the stage. They discussed teams and aspects of the game, the upcoming Cricket World Cup 2015 and ‘Mewsic’, a Brett Lee Foundation initiative that uses music as a medium of ‘healing, educating and empowering sick and poor children in India’. The video presentation was an inspirational insight into the great work being done by the Foundation in India. The AIBC Business Awards for excellence were presented by Ms Bishop to Nitish Jain of SP Jain Global Management Institute, Rituraj Sinha and George Chin of MSS Security, and DD Saxena of Riverina Oils & Bio Energy Pty Ltd (ROBE). John Harnden, ICC’s CEO offered an overview of the CWC 2015 and displayed the trophy, which was photographed almost as much as Brett Lee, towards the end of the evening. The event successfully concluded with Graham Putt, EGM of CBA and platinum sponsor of the event, delivering the vote of thanks.
What to expect?
Moving forward, there is a growing sense of optimism from Australia towards India and indeed the Modi-led government in India is showing signs of openness and calling on for foreign investments to assist in developing the nation’s infrastructure and other sectors. Australia has already shown signs to make India their third most trading partners and market after China and United States of America. There is also a growing sense that India’s cultural difference and local business environment will transform to better cater towards foreign investment as these two are the leading obstacles for foreign investments into the country.
Overall, the evening saw a lot of networking opportunities and showcased the potential of India in the post election optimism. Also noticeable was the Australian government and indeed some business’s and individuals talking of the bilateral relation in the clichéd three C’s and Bollywood. This relation is more than these inferences, though it helps in breaking the ice. However, over the long run the bilateral relation will hopefully mean more than the current presumptions. Indeed, some interesting times ahead in this sphere, especially for this part of the world!
The Agenda from Tony Abbott towards India
* Australia and India, Partners for the 21st Century
“Our government recognizes that India is vital to Australia’s strategic and economic thinking. India is an economic, political and strategic powerhouse and a mega democracy with increasing global influence. It has the potential to be one of our most valuable and strategic partners yet Australia had seemed slow to fully
come to terms with India’s regional and global significance and why a deeper and stronger and more diversified relationship is in Australia’s interest. Australia is also a nation of the Indian Ocean and I see and describe our region as the Indo Pacific which means our focus must also include India. Our common interests in the Indo – Pacific are growing and converging.”
* Importance of Economic Reform
“On election night, 7 September 2013 last year, Prime Minister – elect Tony Abbott declared that Australia was under new management and was open for business. We want to make it easier to do business in Australia and not harder and we’re prepared to put our international assets – including our diplomatic footprint – to work for that objective, to support the growth of our business sector. That’s why we have a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade-led Consulate-General in Mumbai.” “Along with our High Commission in New Delhi and our Consulate-General in Chennai, our Mumbai office helps to ensure we have the presence necessary to reach across India’s most dynamic and trade- focused regions. We have a total of 11 Australian representative posts in India (both DFAT and Austrade) that are led by Australians or local staff.”
“As the host of the G20, Australia is focused on an agenda to strengthen global economic growth and create jobs and job opportunities through empowering the private sector, improving the investment environment particularly for productive infrastructure, pursuing trade opportunities, removing unnecessary regulation and making it easier to do business around the globe.” “India will be a key player in those discussions and Australia certainly looks forward to working with India closely as we settle the agenda in the lead to the G20.”
* Growth through Economic Reform
“On our respective economies, Australia has had 22 years of uninterrupted growth, despite the downturn of 2008. We’re a country of 22 million people. India is a country of over 1.2 billion people. On the back of the reforms driven by then Finance Minister Singh, India has meanwhile created a middle class of hundreds of millions, achieving the historic feat of delivering millions, too, from debilitating poverty.” The opening up our economies has opened up Australia and India to each other. Our bilateral trade has increased by around a third in the past five years alone. Indian companies have investments totalling around $10 billion in Australia, much of it in our resources sector. And Australian companies are becoming more confident in investing in India, with investments worth about A$5.8 billion at the end of 2012.”
“We’d like more firms to follow the lead of those Indian companies who have set up shop in Australia.”
Key points from Julie Bishop
•One of the common refrains about the bilateral relationship is that it is one of great potential but never quite realised. But I believe that the relationship now has a momentum that is unstoppable
•While Australia has traditionally defined our place in the world, as the Asia Pacific, this Government now looks west to encompass India as a crucial part of our region. I’ll be meeting her for the first time this weekend at the ASEAN Regional Forum, East Asia Summit in Myanmar and I’m visiting India again later in the year when Minister Swaraj hosts our next Foreign Ministers’ Framework Dialogue.
•We already work together in the G20, the East Asia Summit and we are the troika along with Indonesia of the Indian Ocean Rim Association. We are negotiating a closer Economic Partnership Agreement. We hope to conclude a civilian nuclear cooperation agreement to supply Australian uranium for India’s energy needs. We have closer defence and military co-operation.
•Australia invests in India — with resource and infrastructure projects of around $10 billion.
•Austrade’s India team saw the opportunity to work with Indian authorities to stem the economic and socialimpact of traffic accidents. There are some 500,000 road traffic injuries and 150,000 lives lost in India each year. The human tragedy is incalculable but the economic cost is about $50 billion annually or over 3 per cent of India’s GDP. So we found a solution – an innovative way of helping to prevent this level of traffic accidents. One that of course presents a commercial advantage for the companies transporting goods but it was also about Australia helping our friend and neighbour find a solution to what was a national problem.
•India’s games in Melbourne and Perth, will form the basis of business forums and networking opportunities between Australian and Indian companies—particularly those in the resources, infrastructure, agribusiness and ICT sectors
•The Coalition Government is seeking to elevate Australia to the status of India’s “best partner in business”.