India post-Covid to get major economic boost from the rural economy

The Covid19 pandemic has crippled India’s urban economies.

But fortunately for India, the rural economy is stepping up.

Over two thirds of the population and 70 per cent of the workforce of India are in rural areas. The rural economy is now 46 per cent of national income.

And India’s 650,000 villages have money to spend.

How is this happening?

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Bharat, or rural India, is thriving – it is a combination of bumper crops, good monsoons and Government handouts.

In India’s auto sector, biggest demand is now rural – for tractors and two wheelers.

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Rural unemployment peaked at 26 per cent in May but by June 21 had dropped to 7.3 per cent.

For once in a long time, the Indian rural economy is the good news and could be the big driver post this pandemic.

Indian startups are driving growth and change

There are many drivers of India’s economic growth and transformation – but certainly punching above their weight are Indian startups.

There were over 50,000 startups in India in 2018.

India has the third largest startup ecosystem in the world.

The success is partly driven by corporate India (which is providing much of the funding) and by the Indian Government policies.

Bengaluru is in the world’s top 20 startup cities and ranks in the top 5 of the “fastest growing”.

Some of the best known Indian startups include Ola Cabs, Snapdeal (e-commerce), OYO (hotels), Swiggy (food delivery), Big Basket (food e-commerce) and BYJU’s (ed tech).

Watch this space.

Can you trade with India without leaving home?

As Covid19 has made us all (Australia, UK, USA, Canada etc) more cautious, we are reluctant to travel.

Add to that a leap in Indian online e-commerce for all kinds of products and services.

Is the future of trade with India digital? Do relationships matter any more?

We have always said that the key to long term success with India is in the careful and gradual development of close working relationships. This has to be done face to face, but these days can be supported via phone and video calls.

Deakin University is the prime example of success through perseverance and relationship building – they have had a presence in India for over 25 years.

Ravneet Pawha has led Deakin in India for most of that time and she is now the Deputy Vice President – Global and CEO – South Asia. She knows everybody in decision making on education in India. Ravneet is a regular promoter of Australia and our education at conferences and in Indian media.

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The Australian citrus industry is taking a closer look at India but their CEO has told members it could take five years to build a market.

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So relationship still matters in dealing with India.

For our diplomacy, we need closer relationships at Indian central and state government levels.

For education, we need to follow the lead of Deakin University and be on the ground over there, building collaborative relationships.

And for products and services, while online is becoming the way of the future, products and services will only become trusted and valued as people have a relationship with your brand.

Australian PM Morrison has been gradually building a closer relationship with India PM Modi and this is producing some progress on agreements and cooperation.

Relationship – it is the way forward with India.

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Abu Dhabi invests big time in India’s Jio

India has close economic and diplomatic ties in the Middle East. They just got stronger.

Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) invested US$ 806.28 million in Jio Platforms, taking the total capital raised by its digital services subsidiary to around US$ 14.19 billion in just seven weeks.

The UAE is India’s third largest trading partner and more than three million Indians live in the Emirates.

So far, Jio Platforms has raised US$ 13.89 billion from seven marquee global investors.

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ADIA, which is a globally diversified investment institution, invests funds on behalf of the government of Abu Dhabi through a strategy focused on long-term value creation. It has made several investments in India, mostly through its private equities department.

Jio Platforms is at the forefront of India’s digital revolution.

Jio, with 388 million users, combines all of RIL’s digital and telecom initiatives, including Jio digital services, mobile and broadband, apps, tech capabilities such as artificial intelligence, Big Data, and Internet of Things, and other investments such as in Den Networks, Hathway Cable, and Datacom.

India and Australia set a course to lead in the Indian Ocean

Last Thursday a “virtual” meeting set the course for the Indian Ocean region.

Australia’s PM Scott Morrison and Indian PM Narendra Modi met online.

Both shared the same problem – how to ensure security in “our” Indian Ocean region when China is becoming so active there.

These two leaders have ensured that for decades the two countries will become even closer strategic friends, and that both will lead in determining power in the Indian Ocean.

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Neither country ever expresses expansionist plans. Both just want the freedom and security they cherish.

This is a real boost to the India-Australia relationship because, let’s face it, there has not been much spark of interest between the two countries. Lots of words, but nothing tangible. Modi and Morrison have changed all that. Now it is real.

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What security deals came out of the meeting?

First, allowing reciprocal access to each other’s military bases for logistics support such as refuelling and maintenance. Sounds mundane, but it is a key step to closer military exercises and training.

Second a maritime cooperation agreement supporting the “rules-based” maritime order in the region, founded on respect for the sovereignty of all nations and international law, particularly the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. “Rules based” means “not China”.

Third, an agreement to cooperate on critical cyber and other technologies.

There were six other agreements and commentators are saying the two leaders found many ways of implying that “this is all about China”.

But I think it is really about the future of the Indian Ocean.

The two countries – India and Australia – have middle level defensive capacities and could unite a string of countries in the region in some form of security net. Likely additions would be Vietnam and Indonesia.

It will be values based. Modi told Morrison, “it is our sacred responsibility to uphold and protect values for global good like democracy, rule of law, freedom, mutual respect, regard for international institutions and transparency.” These values, he said, were under challenge.

This Indian Ocean deal could make the region one of stability at a time of China’s rise to power and the unpredictability – and decline – of the USA.

 

Former diplomat John McCarthy shows how Australia can gain respect in Asia

INTO INDIA recently called for an end to “Australia giving Asia a lecture”.

Now former diplomat John McCarthy has highlighted the importance of regaining respect in Asia.

In an interview in the Australian Financial Review, McCarthy said: “American power is diminishing, whichever way you look at it. Chinese power is increasing. We don’t like it. And we are not doing much about it. Part of the reason why is because there is no popular understanding of why it’s important. So, the political class are not giving it the huge amount of thought they should be.”

He is concerned that our political leaders publicly criticise China because they think the Australian electorate will support it.

More from McCarthy: “What we should be doing now is working quietly with other nations to present “a united, cogent front” against China’s excesses. Instead, our politicians are playing the punters, using foreign policy to win support at home.”

He made the key point that Japan, Vietnam and India all have much bigger problems with China than we have – border issues and very considerable policy differences that go back many years – yet they are very careful. “Occasionally they will make a strong criticism of China, but they hedge. They are cautious. They are measured,” he said.

When Australia made a loud and public call for the coronavirus investigation, McCarthy was well placed to judge the reaction in Asia.

“The immediate reaction of my Asian friends to those comments was ‘Why are you following Trump on this?’ When you are looking for respect, you don’t follow the words and actions of the most condemned American I can think of.”

So, what is ahead for Australia in Asia?

“I think over the longer term it can get back to a more mutually respectful, interest-based relationship. At some stage we will have to get the thing back into some sort of kilter. It is really totally wrong right now.”

“We don’t want to be seen by our regional friends as the voice at the table that could be an embarrassment – yet I think we are.”

Can we gain respect? McCarthy’s concluding remarks are a powerful lesson in diplomacy.

“The Chinese may not like us, but it would be nice if they respected our views,” he says. “I think partly because of the way we have said things, pronounced on things, they have put us in the same basket as Trump and that is seriously hurtful to Australia.”

He also says it’s not just China we need to worry about.

“If we want to contribute to the responses to the changes in the region, we don’t want to be seen by our regional friends as the voice at the table that could be an embarrassment – yet I think we are. Because of the way we sound off, the small country echoing Trump, the countries that are more measured in the way they deal with China are thinking, ‘Do we want to be closely associated in public with this maverick?'”

Right there is the challenge for Australia.

 

India offered flexibility on RCEP – the world’s biggest trading bloc

RCEP – the initials that describe potentially the world’s biggest trading bloc.

RCEP needs India back – it walked out during earlier negotiations.

To urge India back to the negotiations for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), its 15 member countries have offered New Delhi the option of deferring commitments related to opening up its market.

Reports on the RCEP move come on the eve of online discussions between Indian PM Modi and Australian PM Morrison. I hope they can advance the talks.

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The move was reported in The Hindu Business Line.

According to some diplomatic sources, the deferral means that India does not need to worry about RCEP’s impact on the broadening of its trade deficit with China and other member countries when it signs the RCEP agreement.

India quit talks with the RCEP — which includes the 10-member ASEAN, China, Japan, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand — in November 2019, as it could not agree on crucial issues including the level of market opening being demanded by the members, especially China.

“If India agrees to the package then it can enjoy the benefits of all other aspects of the RCEP pact such as investments, services and intellectual property rights, without having to worry about the fate of industry and farmers,” the diplomat further said.

The RCEP, once completed, could be the largest trading bloc in the world, accounting for 45 per cent of the world’s population and 40 per cent of world trade.

 

 

Stop seeing India through the lens of someone else’s trade war

Things get a bit biased in the west, and right now China is seen by politicians as a negative – even if most western economies rely on China trade.

The mythology from politicians is that their country – including Australia – should look at “diversifying” trade targets away from China.

Thinking of India as an “alternative” to China is a bit disrespectful of India and setting up for failure. Seeing India for what it is – a really good opportunity but on a different scale to China – will lead to better commercial and political decisions.

Let’s not look at India through the lens of someone else’s “trade wars”.

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When it comes to the world, China is the big game. India and Indonesia are also in the game and worth playing with, but each needs to be respected for what it is.

Take the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper which reported that growth in demand through to 2030 from China would be greater than that from the US, Japan, India and Indonesia combined. China’s rapidly expanding middle-class market is the big market.

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Even the Peter Varghese report on India’s potential showed that by 2035, Australia might export $45 billion of products and services to India. That would be great news! But compare that figure of $45 billion (and it’s 15 years off) with last year when Australia exported more than $160 billion to China.

When we remove the blinkers of politics, we can treat each country with respect and see the actual opportunity they represent.

We can open our eyes to a better view of trade – seeing it as part of the overall relationship of friendship with trading partners.

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Why Australia makes diplomatic errors in Asia – Article 4

Pictured – Julie Bishop was an exceptional politician and Australia Foreign Minister – preferring behind the scenes discussion to public brawling

Australia is well represented in Asia by outstanding diplomats, but most are frustrated that too much of their time is spent repairing relationships after public outbursts from down under.

Today’s good diplomatic work leads into tomorrow’s diplomatic problem – one step forward two steps back diplomacy.

What is to be done to change Australia?

Short term, although the public is suspicious of “junkets” we need to send our politicians (and aspiring politicians) regularly to India and China, charged with building relationships that build through regular telephone follow up.

Being able to make that call across a range of levels is effective communication with cultures that are collective, like most of Asia. Every MP becomes a diplomat.

Also building on the relationships that exist through our very large Indian and Chinese diasporas would make sense, and we just need to sit down with them and work out how to leverage their networks.

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Of course, it would also be good if our political leaders listened to their diplomatic advisors before rushing into public commentary – but that might be wishful thinking.

This is an entrenched problem and the solution is long term.

We need to produce a generation of culturally sensitive and adaptable students. Any move to increase student exchanges will pay off long term in relationships and cultural understanding. It has to occur at every level of education with creative ways for primary and secondary schools to make Asian connections.

Australia has pulled off the miracle of creating multicultural Australia and we accept the need for sensitivity and adaptability to other cultures at home – we now need to do the same abroad.

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Finally, for leaders at all levels, please, no more “lecturing”. No Asian country welcomes a public lecture from the west – it is seen as not respecting the achievements of the Asian country and, given our history of colonial exploitation, it is just another instance of the west’s superiority complex. In other words, it’s a bit hard to take from their perspective.

The Father of the Indian Nation, Mahatma Gandhi, understood the Indian public and their sense of being exploited by the west. When asked what he thought of western culture he replied that it would be a good idea.

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This is the fourth article on “Why Australia makes diplomatic errors in Asia”. 

Why Australia makes diplomatic errors in Asia – Article 3

Australians display a remarkable lack of curiosity about the culture of other countries.

Leading trade missions, I find few who really want to dig deep and understand the culture they are visiting. Most are either not interested or overly confident that good old Aussie friendship will get us through. It does not.

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Friendship is overlaid by culture, so what we see as merely being friendly can give offence in other cultures.

Cultural training for businesses rarely goes beyond the “how to greet and exchange business cards” approach which is merely the tip of the cultural iceberg.

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By learning about cultures, including our own, we can work out effective ways to stay true to ourselves while adapting to others. But this is a long way off.

Look at the case of relationships with India – soon to become one of the world’s top five economies and a vital cog in Indian Ocean regional security.

First there was the ban on sales on uranium – but the problem was more than the ban, it was our outspoken and public defence of not selling them uranium until they complied with global protocols.

It came across as a public lecture. It could have been done so much better in private diplomacy.

Then there was the issue of violence against an Indian student in Australia – before any investigation, Australia very strongly and publicly denied that there was any racist element in the attack. Clearly this was a premature claim and it riled the Indians, with hints of a cover up.

Again, a public spat which should have been a behind closed doors discussion and then a considered and cautious public statement. In the end, the relationship and trust were repaired but it took a Prime Ministerial visit and a lot of time to achieve this.

Underneath all these diplomatic errors is lack of cultural sensitivity.

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This is the third in a series on “Why Australia makes diplomatic errors in Asia”.