Remarks by External Affairs Minister, Dr S. Jaishankar at the Raisina@Sydney Business Breakfast

Posted on: February 18, 2023 | Back | Print

Very good morning. It's not that early, but it's really wonderful to be back here. And I think, Justin and Samir, I need to thank you both for making this event possible. Senator, thank you very much for your warm words. What I thought would be the most useful thing that I could do, for all of you is really speak a little bit about how we see the relationship. But more important, perhaps share with you how I see, the Indian landscape changing, and why that is relevant for you. And when I say I see the Indian landscape changing, in a way, I bring multiple perspectives to bear the objectivity of someone who spent a lot of time outside his own country, who keeps looking back at it, and who, in a way, is a sort of marketing department of the country for 40 years. So, you have to know your product well to market it effectively outside. And then a brief corporate education, which was very, very useful, very brief, unfortunately. And 4 years as a practicing politician, and believe me, the speed of education there is even hostile. And really, when you go around, I would say, to me, the real discovery of being a politician is how much time you would spend, really, on the road, I mean, on the street, and the kind of things you pick up there, and the impact of changes, which otherwise, you look at it much more theoretically, if you're just living in a capital city.

But let me kind of dial back a bit, you know, look at the relationship itself. And I think I would very much echo what the Senator said, which is, today's world, I think the state of the world creates a very compelling case for India and Australia to do more with each other. For quite a few years now, for more than a decade, I think we can see the direction the world is going in. It's in transition. Now that's a very nice word which pretty much describes anything at any time. But the bottom line is the sense of stability, the factors of permanence in our calculation that we had for many decades, have in the last decade, you know, there've been question marks, I mean, we can debate it’s a good thing or a bad thing but it doesn't matter, it's happening. And it's necessary for countries like India and Australia here to work more closely to shape the direction in which the world is going.

But there's a much more immediate context. And the context is, especially that of the last three years, there was already this transition going on. And there were I think, trade concerns, there were financial concerns, and then came the COVID. And the impact of the COVID has been devastating on the world economy. Perhaps we in India and Australia, feel it much less. As someone who travels a fair amount to other parts of the world, you know, we look at Africa and Central America, and some other parts of Asia, I look at my own neighbourhood, you know, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, we can see really how much damage, economic damage, social damage, psychological damage the COVID has done. And then if that wasn't enough, then came the Ukraine conflict. So today, I would actually in terms of foreign policy, for me, one of the big goals would really be how do you de-risk the global economy and you de-risk the global economy, one by building more reliable and resilient supply chains, which is exactly one of the initiatives that India and Australia and Japan have embarked on. Two, how do we address the challenges of the digital world much more securely, much more credibly. And that's a whole new set of issues and a set of policies out there, it's not without geopolitical aspects. And the third, of course, what are the important relationships, which can serve as stabilizers, really for a sort of world economy heading into choppy waters, quite a few years ahead.

Now, what we are going to see, I think, on the bilateral front hopefully is you, Senator, referred to the passage of the ECTA and I think, in a larger sense, there is the comprehensive strategic partnership, which sort of sets the narrative, the framework really for the relationship, and how to take it forward I think it's hugely helpful to have high level contacts, to have CEO forums, to have trade ministers. So in the coming days and weeks, I expect to see a lot of activity on that front. And I think it's really when business meets business when Prime Ministers meet Prime Ministers, when Trade Ministers meet, and even Foreign Ministers have their role, when we all do our business, in a much more regular, intensive, constructive manner, I think that's hugely helpful to taking the relationship forward.

Now, if I can switch track and speak a little bit about how I see the landscape, today, in India. We have this annual budget exercise, I'm sure you have your version of it as well. And what the budget exercise does is, it's like a public stocktaking of the national economy. And not just, I mean, we call it budget, but actually, the budget has a long-sided kind of, shall I say, an economic strategy and economic prognosis for a much longer period than just a year which the budget covers, so it come as a package. But budget, of course, course corrects every year, in for that larger picture.

Now, since we are just coming out of the parliament session last week, after the presentation of the budget, I would sort of underline to you today that in India, we feel that we, relatively speaking, we have come out of the COVID challenge, quite strongly. I mean, there's a human cost. All of us know that I think there's not a single family that I know, which hasn't had some kind of COVID loss. But having said that, the COVID period, one, we responded to it in a way in which it was fiscally sustainable. In fact, a lot of reforms were carried out during the, under the COVID stress. There was a lot of creativity, which also was implemented on scale on the field, also, because of the COVID pressures. And in many ways, I think, decisions which may have otherwise taken us much longer, for example, ramping up our health, the resources we devote to health, I think a lot of these decisions really got fast forward. So the sense today in India, really is of a certain amount of economic confidence, a confidence also in our ability to manufacture, to create, to collaborate in many more areas. We are targeting 7% growth this year. But we do expect it to improve over the next five years. And definitely we think we would stay in that 7 to 9% range, at least for a decade, decade and a half. And you can in India today see that reflected in the investment climate, both in the flow of FDI, FII as well as in the investments which the government itself is leading, the capital outlay in the budget, this year is actually about a third more than it's ever been before.

Now, having sort of made that point that you're really looking at a sort of bullish economic scenario in India, there are a few aspects which I would like to keep at the end of the discussion, because I think it might be useful to dilate upon it at some length. But if I were to today, move back to our relationship, I mentioned the investment climate because I think if there's one area in our relationship, we need to look at more strongly and that is really encouraging more investments. I think the ECTA definitely, is already having a good impact on trade. But, you know, in a sense, we have to walk on both leg,s trade and investment together, because they're mutually reinforcing. So for us when the CEO forum meets, and when the Trade Minister comes and when the Prime Minister comes, how do we actually encourage greater investments, that is very much a focus for this visit.

In our own relationship, I think the mobility, migration aspect of it is very important. We've seen a very substantial movement of Indian talent to Australia. We have roughly in the world, roughly, about a million students. And Australia is I think, third probably or probably fourth in terms of the numbers. But again, I agree with you, you said it shouldn't be thought of as a business, you didn't use those words, but that's what you meant. And you spoke about the trust side of it, the responsibility side of it. But I would like to also stress the strategic side of it. Because what we are going to see in the world we are already seeing in the world, is there is today, a great mismatch between the geographies of demand and the geographies of demographics. So where the people need to be is not where the people are, or where the demand is not where the people are. And the last year, actually has seen a number of countries actually wake up to this possibility. Just over the last three months, I've signed a migration mobility agreement with Germany, which actually has been a very conservative society in terms of flow of people from outside. And even more conservative partner, Austria, we have concluded an agreement for a certain set of professions with Japan. It's been on hold because of COVID for implementation reasons, because we also have to teach them language. With the UK, with France, with Denmark, with Portugal. So one part of the movement of students, you know, the education is something bigger than education, it's actually about the talent and skills which is needed to sustain a global economy.

But this the other part, which today again, we would like to focus on, it's something which Prime Minister Albanese in fact brought up in his first meeting with Prime Minister Modi, when they met in Tokyo, which is how do we expand in India, the ability to impart skills and education. And we would very much welcome Australian Universities in India to do that, because having people move out physically, we are actually not, and we're talking 100,000 people, frankly, that number is very small compared to what the global demand is. So if you're really going to add a few zeros to that, we need to really get our act together in India, do it very differently. And we can only do that if it is actually done as a global collaboration. And that's why our new education policy envisages a regime which will allow in India, foreign universities to come in, in some form. My expectation is that there probably will be some further legislation on this subject and some regulations, which would facilitate that. But the whole domain of skills and talent is something I think, which is very central to this relationship. And for us, it's not just about Indian students coming to Australia, it's about India and Australia working together in India, to produce more skilled, more competent talent for the entire world.

Connectivity is another subject. I mean, it's again, part of growing relationship is really having the ability to move. We have an open skies agreement, but it's very clear again, that the supply lags well behind demand. But of course, the good news is that Air India has bought 470 planes. So hopefully, that should make a big difference to connecting India with the rest of the world. Prosperity in India is also something I would highlight and I say this coming out of, you know, I've recently been to and this is completely coincidence, to places where actually tourist go Fiji, Cyprus, Greece, all this was work okay, let's not… But I put it to you that, just as we saw in other parts of Asia, what we saw with Japan, what we saw with Korea, with Southeast Asia, China, as there is greater prosperity, and as the middle class grows, you know, middle class is a very broad term, but in our own system, today, we would say, somewhere between a quarter of India, you know, roughly give or take, would qualify for what we would call middle class, but we expect this to actually become something like two-thirds of the country in the next 25 years. And when you have that kind of growth of middle class and the consumption patterns of the middle class and the aspirations of the middle class, I think it's something which any producer of any goods and services, which relate to middle class demand should be looking at, and the countries which clearly are early movers here, would draw a lot of benefit.

Another subject, of course, which has been getting a lot of attention is climate action. And again, if you want to see, you know, big things done on scale, serious things done on scale, India's in many ways, the place to be. A lot of the story of the last seven, eight years has been about solar, I think you're going to see a big spike in wind and obviously in hybrid energy. But there is now, I think, a growing focus on green hydrogen, green hydrogen, green ammonia, and again, this is a global phenomena, I think, one of the unintended fallouts of the Ukraine conflict is a de-risking from fossil fuels. So, green hydrogen actually probably got a great boost, because of the uncertainties of how pipelines and production contracts have been leveraged.

Now, I’d just like to conclude by highlighting four developments in India, which I think today are very important to understand, because they capture the change in a way. One, that we have, you know, we use this term Make in India. Make in India is a term which is really meant to highlight the importance of setting our production, of collaborating with Indian companies. It is not autarkic, it is collaborative, you know, we want our partners to come, but we would like them to make in India because we believe we offer a lot of advantages there. And the Make in India, in many ways is today, given a practical shape through, in many domains, through what we call production linked incentives. So, a very, very notable example is the decision by Apple, over the last two years, to shift a lot of their production to India. But in different domains, we really want global manufacturing to look at India seriously.

The second is in a way an "Invented in India” , that you are going to see more products, more services, more technologies, which are going to come out of India. And one example was even during the COVID, the fact that there was among the vaccines which came out was a vaccine, which was invented, well more than one vaccine, which was invented in India. But, here, if I were to pick an example, I think you will get really deployable 5G technology coming out of India this year. And certainly, I think, given what I said about trust and transparency in the digital domain, I think this is something which will be of great global interest.

The third pertains to a long-standing problem we have, a complaint about our infrastructure. And again, if you come to India today, physically, you can see the infrastructure position change. I mean, you travel in India, you go to any Indian city, there's some building going on this, you know, there's a sort of an energy and a actually, it's like, worker bees at it all the time. And here, the change has been an integrated infrastructure policy. Now, you might think that's not a big deal. But for us, frankly, one of the reasons why we had not done well on infrastructure was - it was done in a very siloed manner. So the railway guys did their stuff, the roads did their, power guys did their. So today, the idea that there's a kind of a master plan, you can say, of doing it in a consolidated, collaborative, inter-departmental, inter-ministry, cross-business way it's something we call Gati Shakti. And it's actually making infrastructure building because these are some of the challenges, anybody who has lived in India will understand right away, for example, getting the land acquisition done on time, these are the kinds of holdups which we've long had, and that's being addressed here very effectively.

And lastly, if there's a big change in India, in the last three years, it's the digitization of India, and digitization on a scale and an intensity, which is very difficult to communicate, if you haven't seen it for yourself. And, again, if I were to review a few shorthand descriptions, during COVID, we were one of the early countries to lockdown. But we were one of the countries who lockdown most comprehensive. When we lockdown, we completely lockdown. And the challenge was, how do you feed. You know, what happens to people in the informal economy, people who went back to their homes during this period. So it was a socio-economic challenge, to some degree, it was a political challenge. And it was actually the time when the digital backbone was tested. And we had these two programs, one of giving a free food, and till the 31st of December last year, beginning from May of 2020, we were actually delivering free food to a little more than 800 million people, and 800 million people confident that it was actually going to them, unlike earlier days, it wasn't that it was getting siphoned off coming into the market, middlemen were taking stuff, the digital was actually ensuring an integrity of delivery and transaction that would not have been possible.

Equally on the financial side, because we had encouraged people to open bank accounts, sometimes bank accounts with no money in them. But we were again during the same period, putting in money into the bank accounts of 415 million people who are the lowest income in the country. And if you ask me, how did you get through COVID, I cannot overstate the importance of actually financially supporting people and feeding people and ensuring that this works on the ground.

But it's not just the crisis interventions which are a validation. This has now become the basic governance mechanism today to do socio economic delivery. So if you look, we are trying to demonstrate that we can construct a comprehensive social welfare system, even at our scale of income, and our scale of income is $2,000 per capita. And we can do that really, by, you know, really cutting the overheads making sure in a sense that the programs are very targeted, and therefore very, very efficient. So, if you look at most of our delivery programs today, the social programs, we have really, in the last four years been able to get about 500 million people covered by health schemes, about the same number covered by pension schemes. You know, there was a program to replace firewood with cooking gas, and the cooking gas, initial lot of cooking gas, you get free of cost. Now that program was as big as 80 million people. We have a housing program, a housing program, we've already delivered 30 million houses, and at five people a family in India, that means 150 million people have been covered. So I'm giving you these numbers, because it actually tells you the scale, which digital backbone makes possible. We couldn't have done this 10 years ago, because we didn't have that backbone, and we didn't have the strategic understanding to activate and utilize that backbone.

And you can see this in the lifestyle of people as well. I mean, today, if you look at education, so much of it today is digital. Look at shopping, I mean, in fact, if you look at our cashless transactions, the UPI, I think we record the largest number of cashless transactions in the world. So there's been a kind of a technology leapfrogging in the psyche of people. And that's been actually a very, very big difference. And as a political person, I can tell you, when you go to your constituents, you go to other constituencies you're campaigning, this is really what is making a difference, that there are people, and the nice thing about it is this is actually absolutely faceless. So it relieves the politician of any charge of favouring, you know, one group or one community or one region, against the other. I mean, you actually can go in there completely objective, utterly impartial, totally technology, data-driven. And that's an enormous boon.

So these were some of the thoughts which I thought, I should share with you. My sense is, we today clearly got a strong political tailwind. The challenge in any relationship, you know, different relationships work differently, sometimes business gets a bit ahead. Sometimes you're kind of, I would say, socially, or technologically driven. When I look at the Quad, each one of the relationships has moved with a different aspect of it leading. But I would say this for the political side I mean, the degree of vested interest here, that we have actually led so far and we have created an environment today, where I think the business side, the economic side, the investment side, the technology side can come in much more strongly. And that's really the face today that we need to be working at. So once again, really thank you for your attention.

February 18, 2023