India: Indo-Israeli Trade Talks – Where Is Australia?

2003

Dr Auriol Weigold

Indian and Israeli newspapers have been replete with stories about the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, and his 124-member delegation’s three-day visit to India. The delegation arrived in Delhi on 8 September 2003 with a sizable agenda ranging from recognition of their mutual interests as ‘embattled democracies’ in the fight against terrorism; in proposed arms sales; and in the forging of agreements covering areas such as environmental protection, health and medicine, combating drug trafficking, and culture and education. Their bilateral trade initiatives drew substantial media interest.

The plans by India and Israel to increase bilateral trade as reported in the media are impressive. They are ready to sign several agreements on trade, investment and technology exchange that have the potential to again double trade figures in the next five years. While figures are not necessarily fully reflective of economic activity, bilateral trade between India and Israel has already more than doubled since diplomatic ties were established in 1992, rising to US$534 million by 1997 and, by 2002, to US$1.27 billion.

Israel has in addition offered venture capital for communication and information technology projects, advanced agricultural technologies and aerospace engineering.

But all was not smooth sailing as the successful trade deals might suggest. While Vajpayee and Sharon agreed on a response to combat terrorism, in what Sharon terms the ‘West Asia peace process’, a major problem arose straight away when Vajpayee would not agree to give up Indian support for Yassar Arafat. And while the United States hailed the burgeoning friendship with a State Department spokesman announcing that ‘we are always glad when our friends make friends with each other …’, the US moved to block the sale to India of the Israeli-designed, fully operational, purpose built, anti-ballistic missile system, in deference to the US relationship with Pakistan.

The extent of the media coverage in India of the talks, deals, agreements and disagreements demonstrates the health of the diplomatic relationship with Israel. By contrast, Australia inspires no such interest in India, nor does India draw much media attention here in Australia – except on terrorist-related activities, cricket and, most recently, the arrest and conviction of the killers of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons.

India’s External Affairs Minister, Yashwant Sinha, visited Australia last month. Cooperation on combating terrorism was agreed upon by Australia and India mirroring similar agreements made between India and Israel. The Minister attended a luncheon in Melbourne on 29 August and he launched the first Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Centre in Sydney on 30 August. However, these events were not noted in the Australian press.

Unusually, in the face of correspondingly low interest in India, the foreign editor of the Hindustan Times in an article on 28 August about trade with China alluded to the value of giving ‘the other Asian giant, India, a second glance’. He wrote that this ‘argument is timely as India’s External Affairs Minister … is on an official visit to Australia’. But how many in Australia get to read the Hindustan Times? Indeed, how many were even aware of Yahwant Sinha’s visit to Australia, let alone having accorded it any great importance?

WATCHPOINT: Will Australia focus anew on winning over the Indian market?

 

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AFG Venture Group is an Asia and Australia based corporate advisory and consulting firm with over 20 years experience in creating alliances, relationships and transactions in Australia, South East Asia and India; including a 15 year history of corporate and equities advisory in Australia, undertaking merger, acquisition, divestment, fund raising and consulting for private and public companies.

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