Natasha Kaul, Host: G20 Summit is currently underway and this year it is India that holds the privilege of hosting this prestigious global gathering. Over 300 representatives of G20 member nations are set to convene in Jaipur, a renowned city in western part of India, often referred as Pink City, on 24 to 25 August. This upcoming assembly will specifically focus on building global trade and investment‑related issues.
And today we have Mr Tim Ayres, who is going to attend this meeting in Jaipur. Tim Ayres is Assistant Minister for Trade and Assistant Minister for Manufacturing in Albanese Government. A very warm welcome to you, Mr Tim. How are your preparations going on for the upcoming meeting? And are you visiting this famous city for the first time?
Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Manufacturing: Well, Natasha, I’m absolutely delighted to be talking to you and to your listeners. This is a wonderful G20 year, hosted by India, showcasing different parts of India and different aspects of India’s economic and cultural and social development. I’m really looking forward to being in Jaipur. It’s my first time in Jaipur and, I have to confess to your audience, my first time in India. I’m absolutely excited about the opportunity to go and represent Australia’s national interests there, but for my first and certainly not last opportunity to experience India, its fantastic cultures and to work directly with my counterparts in the Indian government for the issues that matter for both our great countries.
Natasha Kaul: Sure. I’m sure, Mr Tim, you’ll really have a great time there. It’s a beautiful city. Let me start by asking you about India’s G20 leadership. It has come at such a critical juncture coinciding with a period of significant global challenges from conflict in Ukraine, COVID‑19 after effects, extreme weather conditions and high food and energy prices. I mean, the world is facing a multitude of intricate issues. The question is; how do you see India’s presidency in this mega-grouping?
Assistant Minister: Well, India is in a very strong position post the COVID crisis. India’s economic development and economic growth is amongst the fastest in the world. There’s a lot to learn from India’s approach to focusing on the key areas of potential growth, the infrastructure development that is going on across that country. So, there is a lot to learn from India itself. And, of course, this G20 leadership that India has this year is an opportunity for India to provide leadership to the biggest 20 economies in the world. You know, Australia really – we participated strongly last year in the G20 as Indonesia hosted the G20, and I remember meeting my Indian counterparts there.
This year is a big year for India, a big year for Indian leadership and growth in the region and around the world, and we live in very challenging strategic and economic and climate circumstances. Big challenges for governments to deal with. No country can deal with these challenges alone. The only way that we can deal with those is with strong leadership and working together at a regional and global level to deal with climate, to strengthen our trade relationships, to make sure we are dealing with food security for the whole world, and building a safer and more prosperous world, and the G20 is the right place to have those conversations.
Natasha Kaul: World expectations are high for India being the host country and the Indian government has recently released a statement regarding the upcoming trade meeting and said deliberations will focus on building consensus on global trade and investment‑related issues. Give us a sense on Australia’s stand regarding India’s priority and can India count on Australia to make G20 presidency a success?
Assistant Minister: We are, firstly, determined to support India in every way that we can to make the G20 a success. I was speaking to my colleague Murray Watt, who returned from the G20 Agricultural Ministers’ [Meeting] with new ideas and indeed a new appreciation of the subtleties and complexities of India’s position around some of the agriculture issues. This is a very big opportunity for Australia to work with our host country India, but also, in the context of the lead‑up to the World Trade Organization’s next round of ministerial discussions early next year, to build consensus around the issues that matter; strengthening global trade and global trade institutions; making sure that we’re dealing with the big challenges of agriculture trade liberalisation and food security; making sure that our trade agenda captures the opportunities of decarbonisation and the new green economy; but also making sure our industries become more competitive and grow as well in that context, particularly in the region.
So, yes, at a multilateral level, these discussions will be an important opportunity to build consensus. And, finally, it’s a great opportunity to reaffirm the enormous progress that we’ve made over the course of the last five years in the India–Australia bilateral relationship. Our economic relationship, our people‑to‑people relationship, and indeed our strategic relationship all being strengthened immeasurably over the course of the last five years. It is a very strong platform for us to continue to build in the interests not just of our two countries, but also of the region that we share.
Natasha Kaul: So, G20 meeting would be useful for India to hold bilateral meetings with other counterparts. Are you holding those meetings with India and talking about the free trade agreement with India as well? We’ve already clinched interim free trade agreement with India. Is that going to be one of the talks to hold, you know, fuller agreement?
Assistant Minister: Well, we’ll certainly be engaged in direct bilateral discussions to support the development of the phase two Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement between Australia and India. I’m looking forward to meetings with my counterparts in India and I’ve had very good engagement, as has Trade Minister Don Farrell, with our Indian counterparts over this agreement.
I fondly remember at my first engagement as an Assistant Minister for the Albanese Government at the World Trade Organization last year with Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal – he is a good friend of Australia. He robustly and strongly and in a very sophisticated way marshals the argument for India’s national interest. He is a really strong interlocuter but he’s a strong supporter of the Australian–India relationship and I look forward to meeting with him and his colleagues as the G20 proceeds.
We’ve got a lot of work to do to get across the detail of making sure that this phase two agreement is finalised and delivers for both countries. But there is, firstly, a really strong platform in the phase one ECTA agreement, but, secondly, enormous opportunity in technology, in finance, in digital, in mining and resources, in manufacturing and in products and services more broadly, including Australian agriculture, to build a trade relationship and a trade agreement that supports both of our national interests, that strengthens both of our economies, that strengthens our complementarities and deals with the big challenges: food security, climate, national security and regional security more broadly. I’m really looking forward to an opportunity at a bilateral level to canvas these issues and to listen carefully to my Indian hosts about the issues that matter to them.
Natasha Kaul: Sure. Mr Tim, the economic relationship between the two sides has become stronger and boosting economic ties remains the key priority. But, you know, we also see some of the Australian politicians who attended recently the screening of a banned Modi film in Parliament and they have raised their own concerns. How do you convince them?
Assistant Minister: I’m not aware of the film that you’re talking about. I’ll just say that the relationship between Australia and India is just so strong. We are both democracies. We share this region. In both of our countries there is a freedom of expression. But that strengthens our relationship. It doesn’t undermine our relationship. Listening carefully – the governments of both countries are listening carefully to each other, identifying the opportunities for progress, the challenges that we must meet together. That is the first pillar of our relationship.
Secondly, of course, the trade and economic relationship that you pointed to is absolutely fundamental. Thirdly, the security relationship, the shared challenges, the shared priorities that we have, the work that our two defence forces and our defence industries are doing together – absolutely critical. And also our people-to-people relations. The Indian Australian community is one of the fastest-growing parts of our community. We are host to almost 100,000 Indian students – just under 100,000 Indian students who are being educated here in Australia.
The interwoven history of our relationship supports the present of our relationship and means that we have a very strong future together. And I look forward to building on that understanding and to approaching the practical issues that are going to be in the interests of both countries.