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2012 brings significant improvement in Aus-India ties

Melbourne: The year 2012 brought significant improvement in Australia-India ties, with the two sides agreeing to launch negotiations on civil nuclear deal during Prime Minister Julia Gillard's maiden visit to New Delhi to further strengthen ties with the rising Asian power.

In what was billed as her most important foreign tour of the year, Gillard visited New Delhi in October, giving a boost to bilateral ties on all fronts including societal, economic and defence.

During her visit, Gillard made a series of announcements to win over Indian hearts and minds and to improve her country's reputation which was tarnished after a spate of violent attacks on Indians students in last few years.

Gillard, who last year lifted a decades long ban on uranium sale to India, and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced kickstart of negotiations on civil nuclear deal, boosting defence and trade co-operation.

The two leaders also agreed to hold annual meetings at the summit level to launch a Ministerial-level Dialogue on Energy Security, start negotiations for an Agreement on Transfer of Sentenced Persons, apart from inking four pacts.

She also made announcement to award 'Order of Australian Medal' to legendary cricketer Sachin Tendulkar.

Australia faired well to harness the synergies of India with Gillard releasing the White Paper on Australia's place in the Asian Century that identified India as "a key nation".

"In a century of growth and change, our interests are closer than they have ever been. We share a region of the world and we share an ocean," Gillard said during India visit.

She announced a desire for greater military cooperation for the Indian Ocean, which lies between the two countries, underlining India's growing importance on the world stage.

Australia, the world's 12th largest economy, in the past focused primarily on China, but it now ranks a relationship with New Delhi as one of its top bilateral priorities, and good economic ties as vital to its future prosperity.

The mood Down Under remained at its best towards India with high optimism to take the relations northwards. There was a flurry of visits to India by high-powered Australian trade missions and politicians with many experts pinpointing that the focus on India needed to fast tracked and consistent.

According to Australia-India Institute Director Amitabh Mattoo, the year 2012 has demonstrated that the two sides' relations was an idea whose time has come and will go down in history as the year which proved to be a game changer.

"The full impact of the Australian decision to overturn the ban on selling Uranium to India was felt in 2012. Prime Minister Gillard received the warmest reception any Australian leader had for decades," he said.

The Asian Century White Paper recognising India as a key nation and teaching 'Hindi' at Australian schools were also the biggest ever celebration of the two nations, he added.

"Australia and India are poised at a historic moment in their relationship," said Co-chairs of the Australia India roundtable 2012 C Raja Mohan and Rory Medcalf, Australia's respected think tank Lowy Institute.

Bilateral links with India were recorded at over 20 billion dollars and India remained the fifth largest trading partner for Australia. Experts said Australian government's decision to reverse Labor's opposition to export uranium to India not only removed a significant impediment to stronger bilateral ties but would also supercharge Australian merchandise exports, which were over USD 15 billion last year.

In India, the Australian government launched 'Oz fest' which aimed to be a powerful forces for bringing people together and the two countries.

'Oz fest', a three million dollar, four-month-long cultural festival that will take

Australian artists, musicians, comedians, sports people, writers, and more to 18 towns and cities across India, to help convey the notion that Australia is about more than kangaroos and beaches.

The year also saw Indians taking over Chinese and British population Down Under and becoming Australia's biggest source of migrants. According to official data, last financial year permanent migration from India hit 29,018 places or 15.7 per cent of the total skilled migration program.

India's continual high levels of economic growth and its rising middle class have been identified by Australia to be the focal point.

Australian education remains the backbone of the two sides' engagement, with education-related travel to Australia of over two billion dollars. According to official data, enrollments of Indian students were at peak and witnessed an average annual rate of around 41 per cent since 2002.

But with higher Australian currency rate, new visa regime, and lingering perception of student safety, the numbers from India have plunged considerably.

Durign January-October 2012 the total number of Indian students stood at 51,678 as compared to corresponding period 2011 at 68,753, a drop of over 24 per cent.

Despite a messy past, new dynamics are bringing Australia and India closer and as a result of economic growth, New Delhi need many things that Australia can supply in abundance including coal, education, commodities.


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