Australia, India to seek closer economic ties, critical minerals cooperation

By Kirsty Needham

SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese met Narendra Modi, his Indian counterpart, in Sydney on Wednesday to discuss regional security and economic ties and signed a migration deal to boost Indian student and business travel to Australia.

The two leaders also discussed the impact of Russia’s conflict with Ukraine on developing countries, particularly food and fuel security, Indian officials said.

Modi is visiting Australia for the first time since 2014, and two months after Albanese travelled to India.

India and Australia are members of the Quad group of nations, which also includes Japan and the United States, and Modi had been due to attend a Quad leaders meeting Sydney. But that meeting was held on the sidelines a Group of Seven summit in Tokyo instead, as U.S. President Joe Biden needed to return directly to Washington.

“Quad leaders stand together for an open, stable, secure and prosperous Indo Pacific region … where all countries large and small benefit from a regional balance that keeps the peace,” Albanese told reporters after a bilateral meeting with Modi.

Albanese said he and Modi had also discussed trade, migration and renewable energy, and the two nations had established a hydrogen task force to expand cooperation on clean energy.

Australia, whose largest trading partner is China, is seeking to diversify its export markets, including forging closer trade ties with India.

India is Australia’s sixth largest trading partner, while around 750,000 people in Australia claim Indian ancestry.

Modi said they had discussed increasing cooperation on mining and critical minerals, and would work towards a comprehensive economic cooperation agreement.

“We talked about taking the Australia-India comprehensive strategic partnership to greater heights in the next decade,” he told reporters. Indian officials later said the next round of trade negotiations will be in June and July.

A migration agreement “will further strengthen our living bridge” Modi said, referring to the Indian diaspora in Australia, which is the second-largest and fastest growing diaspora group in the country. On Tuesday, thousands of overseas Indians cheered Modi at a rally in one of Sydney’s biggest sporting arenas.

Modi travelled to Australia after holding a meeting with 14 Pacific island leaders in Papua New Guinea.

India’s foreign secretary Vinay Kwatra told reporters in Sydney that Modi and Albanese had discussed synergies with Australia’s development programs in the Pacific islands. India’s Pacific islands agenda was focussed on economic and health partnerships, Kwatra said.

(Reporting by Kirsty Needham and Renju Jose in Sydney; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Simon Cameron-Moore)