By Roger Cook
The world is changing around us. The geo-political landscape is shifting and presenting WA with new opportunities which, if realised, will ensure we bequeath the prosperity we have enjoyed to the next generation of West Australians.
These opportunities have no better example than the significance of our relationship with India.
It is hard to overstate the importance of growing our ties with India, the fastest growing economy in the world.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on his recent visit presented Australia as a valued and trusted partner, as both countries look to unlock the opportunities of the recently ratified Interim Free Trade Agreement. Of course, we both love cricket, too, which helps.
In July 2022, recognising the importance of India and the advantages of early engagement, I led the largest trade mission ever to leave WA. Accompanied by 110 delegates, we took our message that we were open for business to four cities in 10 days. We also packed 200kg of WA rock lobster in eskies.
WA was the first Australian State to establish an official permanent presence in India, setting up a trade and investment office in Mumbai in 1996. During our mission we opened another office in Chennai. More than thirty memoranda of understandings were signed, including most recently between Technology Metals Australia Limited and Tata Steel Limited.
The scale of our mission was a deliberate choice. This conveyed to India we were serious about the relationship. Indeed, I have just returned from another visit to India. I spent just 48 hours on the ground. But it was worth it. Even though it is not simple to get there despite the 2.5 hour time difference being less than Sydney and Melbourne.
The CAPA India Aviation Summit in Delhi — where the who’s who of Indian airlines gather — was the reason. But on the sidelines I met with every major Indian airline and a few other major international CEOS such as Emirates to press the case for a direct flight to Perth. The doors are now open quicker. Next week Minister Dawson is in India for the Umagine start-up, technology, and skills conference to keep the WA momentum going.
What we’ve found is the Indian audience is highly engaged with WA after our July mission and the awareness is terrific. Our media posts have reached more than 70 million Indian users and there have been almost 3.5 million visitors to the WA, It’s Like No Other website since the mission.
Arrivals into WA from India have already exceeded pre-COVID levels. India was 11th largest international market in 2019; they have leapfrogged to fourth.
India has been our largest market for international students since 2019 and the potential to grow this is huge. Our Indian community is a very important part of the culture of our State. We have strong and enduring local ties.
The cultural intersection between cinema, sport, political and business leaders, decision makers and the community add a unique and enticing dimension to the possibilities of our relationship with India.
Indian cinema is vast and can help us develop our own aspirations for a WA screen and movie industry. More than that, the population demographic presents opportunities for skilled and non-skilled migration to WA to address workforce shortages. Our goal must be to continue to make sure that we are seen.
A few numbers to set the scene — and illustrate the opportunity.
The Interim Free Trade Agreement eliminates tariffs on more than 85 per cent of Australia’s goods exported to India, valued at around $12.6 billion. Over 10 years, this will rise to almost 91 per cent, or $13.4 billion. Importantly, the agreement unlocks further opportunities, from which we can leverage our respective strengths to drive economic development and diversification.
This is a mirror of our own Diversify WA vision and because of the scale and size of the Indian market, a small change has a vast impact.
The Indian economy is the fastest growing in the world, it recently displaced Britain as the fifth biggest global economy and according to the State Bank of India, will rank third in the world by 2029. That’s an economy bigger than both Germany and Japan.
India is expected to provide more than a sixth of the increase of the world’s working-age population between now and 2050.
And 70 per cent of the population in India are below 35 years old. That’s 900 million people and equivalent to three times the population of the USA. This translates to a skilled, mobile, and burgeoning middle class.
We cannot be complacent. There are many suitors seeking a relationship with India. This is a highly contested space where we must continue to act, be visible, be creative and make the most of our natural advantages of connection and the time difference.
The direct flight is our initial goal — for business, skilled workers, students, tourists and family.
But what we are building is a far bigger longer-term relationship. More like a Test match series than a 20/20 game.
Growing respectful and meaningful links with India as the sands shift across the geo-political world will leave a powerful and enduring legacy for WA.
Contributing Author: Roger Cook is Deputy Premier and Minister for State Development, Jobs and Trade, Hydrogen Industry, Tourism, and Science in the Western Australia government.