On November 20, 2023, New Delhi hosted the second India-Australia 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue, featuring Defense Minister Rajnath Singh, External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar, and their Australian counterparts. Dr. Jaishankar’s affirmation resonated with the burgeoning momentum in the comprehensive strategic partnership, setting the stage for the 14th Foreign Ministerial Framework Dialogue (FMFD) on November 21. The discussions spanned security, regional dynamics, and Quad collaboration, showcased the nations’ shared commitment to a free, open Indo-Pacific. Notable milestones, from Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the symbolic ‘Little India’ in Sydney, underscored the deepening ties. The economic terrain, fortified by the Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement, saw a 200% surge in South Australia’s agricultural exports to India, highlighting the strategic alignment in premium sectors. The dialogue encapsulates a dynamic relationship poised for continued growth across diplomatic, economic, and cultural realms.
India’s comprehensive loss to Australia in the final match of the Cricket World Cup ODI did not cast the slightest shadow on their bilateral relations. On November 20, 2023, in New Delhi, India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister Dr. S. Jaishankar engaged in the second India-Australia 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue alongside their Australian counterparts, Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles and Foreign Minister Penny Wong.
In the aftermath of this consequential 2+2 ministerial dialogue, Dr. Jaishankar resolutely affirmed to the burgeoning momentum characterizing the India-Australia comprehensive strategic partnership. Furthermore, in a manifestation of diplomatic synergy, the External Affairs Minister and Foreign Minister Wong convened the 14th Foreign Ministerial Framework Dialogue (FMFD) on November 21, 2023. This high-level dialogue served as a pivotal forum to meticulously assess the collaborative strides made under the aegis of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, while concurrently nurturing an exchange of perspectives on regional and global matters of shared interest.
The ministers discussed the path forward to enhance student and professional mobility, emphasizing both countries’ commitment to fostering more dependable, resilient, and trusted supply chains in the Indo-Pacific to promote broader and inclusive economic growth. Within the 2+2 framework and their ongoing dialogue, the ministers engaged in a thorough exchange on security matters. They acknowledged the growing convergence between India and Australia, anchored by a shared vision of a free, open, inclusive, prosperous, and rules-based Indo-Pacific, with the UNCLOS serving as the foundation of maritime law. Minister Wong and Dr. Jaishankar also addressed the issues of terrorism, radicalism, and extremism, highlighting their close cooperation in forums like the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
On regional and global matters, the ministers engaged in a detailed discussion on the current situation in the Middle East. They exchanged perspectives on their respective regions: South Asia and the Pacific area. Southeast Asia, ASEAN, and the broader Indo-Pacific region were also discussed, with India and Australia approaching these regions from complementary angles. Dr. Jaishakar emphasized that India and Australia, as liberal democracies and Quad partners, will continue to champion a rules-based international order. They will uphold freedom of navigation in international waters, promote connectivity, growth, and security for all, while respecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all states.
Highlighting the key areas of discussion during the talks, Jaishankar remarked that this year has witnessed numerous milestones in the India-Australia relationship. The establishment of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership marks a fresh start, and the Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement has taken effect, generating a notably positive impact on trade in its inaugural year.
Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Australia marked a significant landmark in strengthening bilateral ties. The establishment of a Little India in Sydney and the appointment of new consulate generals on both sides symbolize the deepening connection between the two nations. In a testament to the enduring friendship between India and Australia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart ceremoniously laid the foundation stone for the ‘Little India’ gateway in Sydney’s Harris Park in May 2023, when Modi was visiting Australia. This symbolic gesture serves as a tribute to the vibrant Indian diaspora in Australia, whose contributions enrich the cultural fabric of their adopted home.
The expansion of direct flight connections, the opening of Australian university campuses in India, and the mutual recognition of educational qualifications facilitate seamless movement and collaboration between the two countries. The ongoing Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) negotiations further underscore the commitment to economic cooperation and growth.
Under the Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA), India’s agricultural imports from South Australia have surged by 200% in the past year. Nick Champion, South Australia’s Minister for Trade & Investment has disclosed the notable increase in imports, including almonds, beans, oranges, wines, lentils, pulses, and processed agro foods. The elimination of tariffs by India has been a key catalyst for this growth that led to a remarkable 200% rise in exports from the food, wine, and agribusiness sector to India until September 2023. The minister emphasized South Australia’s strategic position to expand exports, particularly in premium food and wine categories, as over 85% of Australian goods benefit from zero tariffs, set to increase to 90% by January 2026.
Minister Champion underscored India’s fast-growing appetite for premium agricultural products is aligning with South Australia’s strengths in clean, green produce, renewable energy, health, technology, and space industries. He asserted that South Australia is poised to be a preferred partner in India’s pursuits of digital technology, innovation, energy transition, and manufacturing. During his 6-day recent visit to India. The minister engaged with key stakeholders, including top technology companies and start-ups, fostering collaborations in defence, aerospace, and space-tech sectors. He also inaugurated Pro-Wine Mumbai, demonstrating South Australia’s commitment to strengthening ties with India, its fifth-largest export market.
The minister highlighted the importance of collaboration in education, technology, and innovation, emphasizing the state’s intention to hire a Country Director in Mumbai to facilitate business connections. With 43,598 Indians residing in South Australia and India being the largest source of international students, the minister expressed a commitment to fostering a mutually beneficial relationship between the two regions.
The two countries are also engaged in a comprehensive discussion on the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), acknowledging its significant advancements in recent years. They recognized the wide scope of their ongoing cooperation and expressed their shared commitment to exploring new avenues for collaboration. The 2+2 dialogue focused on identifying concrete measures to further strengthen the Quad. The Quad has made significant strides in recent years, expanding its collaborative scope with each meeting. Today, the Quad’s agenda encompasses a wide range of issues, reflecting the natural inclination to push boundaries, identify new areas of convergence, and explore fresh avenues for cooperation. As preparations for the next Quad meeting in early 2024 are underway, the India-Australia partnership within the Quad context assumes heightened importance. Dr. Jaishankar has aptly outlined the centrality of this partnership, with both countries eagerly anticipating the next Quad meeting and the Quad’s ongoing contributions to the region and to the betterment of their citizens.
The Indian Minister of External Affairs also conveyed to Australia India’s concerns about the strained relationship with Canada stemming from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s accusations of potential Indian involvement in the assassination of Sikh extremist Hardeep Singh Nijjar. Dr. Jaishankar observed that India’s primary concern was the latitude granted to extremism and radicalism in Canada.
The two sides also reviewed the progress on various existing initiatives, especially the follow-up with the first annual summit between the Prime Ministers of the countries earlier this year. EAM Dr. Jaishankar emphasized the positive momentum in the India-Australia Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, highlighted by the recent visit of Prime Minister Albanese to India for the G20 Summit. He also expressed gratitude for Australia’s unwavering support during India’s G20 presidency.
Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong highlighted the collaborative efforts between Australia and India in addressing critical issues such as climate change, maritime security, and ocean health. She emphasized the strong ties between the two nations and announced Australia’s hosting of the Indian Ocean Conference in Perth, scheduled for February of the upcoming year.
India is set to host the Quad meeting in early 2024, and Australia is eager to collaborate with India to ensure its success. The two countries discussed their shared interests in the Indian Ocean region, including climate change, maritime security, and ocean health. As the nations with the longest Indian Ocean coastlines, India and Australia share a deep connection to the region. Australia is delighted to host the Indian Ocean Conference in Perth in February 2024, providing a platform to address the region’s key challenges.
Australia looks forward to welcoming Indian delegation to Canberra for the Raisina Down Under event, following the Raisina Dialogue. Both countries are committed to expanding their cooperation in various areas, including economic engagement, education, and people-to-people ties. This commitment is further strengthened by the newly established Australia-India audio-visual co-production agreement, which is expected to open up new markets for Australian and Bollywood films and series. The second India-Australia 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue in New Delhi solidifies a robust and dynamic partnership. Dr. Jaishankar’s affirmation and subsequent discussions highlight shared commitments to security, economic growth, and a free Indo-Pacific. Notable milestones, from ‘Little India’ to surging exports, underscore a multifaceted relationship poised for sustained collaboration and influence.
*Dr Maheep is a leading analyst of International Relations and Global Politics. He contributes well-researched and nuanced articles regularly on the issues of utmost importance.