Anil Wadhwa could be reviving Australia-India trade relations – Lowy Institute – but health, agri and sport could be the key

So good to read on the Lowy Institute daily publication “The Interpreter” that India is doing something unusual in response to Australia’s Peter Varghese report – it is responding with an Australian Economic Strategy (AES). By the way, well done Lowy Institute for powering this and other national discussions.

The AES is led by former Ambassador and Secretary (East) in the Ministry of External Affairs in India, Anil Wadhwa (pictured).

Let’s not get bogged down on the failed Free Trade Agreement with India – let’s not wait forever, and, by the way, trade is progressing without it. We would prefer to have one, but we can make mutual gains without it.

The key is that the AES from India means for the first time we will have a blueprint for economic engagement with another nation – this is the view of Mukund Narayanamurthy and Danielle Rajendram writing for Lowy Institute. Well done to you both!

They point out that unlike India’s engagement with the US, Canada, UK, and Japan, our relative size means that it is highly unlikely that Australia will have a similar scale of engagement with India. So, they say the crux of the relationship, certainly from a materiality perspective for both sides, will lie in mining, energy, infrastructure, education, and tourism.

This where I differ. They see healthcare, agribusiness, and sport having relevance but “may not be as material in absolute dollar terms” – my view is that these could be the areas that unlock the “India code” and get Australia into the big game with India.

The “India growth story” is a long-term one for investors and business

India remains a compelling long-term investment and business story – despite a lot of negative talk about the Indian economy (mostly politically motivated but also buoyed by a slow down in growth).

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Most commentators expect the slowing to be temporary.

Take a look at the MSCI India index which has comfortably outperformed the MSCI Emerging Markets index (697.7 per cent vs. 485.1 per cent). Not too bad.

Favourable demographics is another driver with India having the world’s largest population of millennials – those aged between 21 and 38 – India has 450 million and these people will transform India. What it eats, drinks, how and where it travels, fashion, what it watches and listens to – life will change fundamentally.

More than 50 per cent of the population is under 25 years of age – a total of 600 million – with 1 million new people entering the workforce each month. Contrast this with China, which is ageing faster than any other country, with the over 60’s expected to account for 35 per cent of the population by 2050. Europe, the US and Japan face similar demographic challenges.

Urbanisation is another driver of growth – a third (34 per cent) of India’s population is urban, but it’s rising fast. Compare this to China (58 per cent) and Japan (92 per cent) – you can see the long-term growth story of India.

Then there is structural and economic change, with pro-business Prime Minister Narendra Modi – let’s steer clear of short-term politics but acknowledge that change has happened, and more is to come.

Visitors to India notice rapid improvement in infrastructure – road construction, plus 27 km of railway built per day, while India’s metro system is growing again, new airports and more.

Investors and businesses should be finding a way to participate in and benefit from the long-term India growth story.

Macquarie on a winner with toll road investments in India

In March 2018, an Australian institutional investor walked away with some prized toll-road assets in India – on the Golden Quadrilateral in the first auction for toll-operate-transfer (TOT) bundles.

MIRA – Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets – had bid aggressively, almost 55% over the base price, and many thought it was a flawed decision. But not anymore.

MIRA’s portfolio is relied on by more than 100 million people every day. Their team of over 800 people invests in businesses that underpin economies and communities – aiming to add real and lasting value for our clients and the people these assets serve. MIRA manages $US129 billion in assets, including: 155 portfolio businesses, approximately 600 properties and 4.7 million hectares of farmland.

MIRA is part of Macquarie Asset Management (MAM) – the asset management arm of Macquarie Group.  As at 31 March 2019, MAM had more than $US385 billion of assets under management.

It may just have picked up some of National Highways Authority of India’s best assets. Toll collections are likely to exceed expectations, reveals an analysis of FY19 figures.

In India, MIRA has found a way to participate in the “growth story”.

IKEA plans 3 stores for Mumbai and broader India expansion

IKEA, the Swedish home furnishing retailer, intends to open three stores in Mumbai. This would consist of a flagship store in Navi Mumbai along with two smaller outlets. The company plans to recruit around 1,000 people, mainly for the Navi Mumbai store, which is planned to open within a year.

Ms. Jaxa Gohil, Store Manager, IKEA India, said India is massively significant for IKEA globally, adding that it is witnessing the company’s biggest expansion plans among new markets. IKEA is investing €1.5 billion (Rs 117.96 billion) in India.

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IKEA has identified Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru as cities that have potential and opportunities.

It also intends to expand through e-commerce channels for Bengaluru and Delhi soon and has started a pilot for e-commerce in Pune.

In August, IKEA started its e-commerce channel for Mumbai and has garnered 2 million visits so far, said Ms. Gohil. E-commerce for Hyderabad was also started, where it opened its only physical store in India in 2018.

IKEA is definite about 50% of employees being women, as well as adapting the offering for India with a focus on affordability and sustainability.

As a global iconic brand, IKEA has chosen the right cities to launch into India, but could focus more on tier two cities too.

Solar is getting really interesting as Australia to build world’s biggest solar farm – energy for Asian neighbours

Plans to build a giant solar power and battery facility in central Australia to supply electricity to Singapore will go ahead thanks to backing from tech and mining billionaires Mike Cannon-Brookes and Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest.

The duo are co-leads on an investment round for Singapore-based Sun Cable‘s $22 billion proposal for a 10-gigawatt (GW) solar farm and 22GWh battery storage near Tennant Creek, in the Northern Territory.

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Solar is stepping up while the Australian Government continues to step back – locked into an ideological stance of opposing any alternative to coal and denying any impact on the climate. Sad to see this continue.

Singapore gets 95% of its electricity from imported LNG and Sun Cable hopes running a 4500km high voltage direct current cable from the 15,000 hectare site – around a quarter of the size of Singapore itself – via Darwin to the island state will supply up to one-fifth of the city’s power needs. It will be the world’s largest solar farm and also supply the NT capital.

The 10GW plant is nearly double the 5,500 megawatts Snowy Hydro scheme, which generates around 4500GWh anually. The Australia-Singapore Power Link (APSL) plant’s generation capacity is four times more than Australia’s largest coal-fired power station.

Central to the project is Sydney solar energy startup 5B, founded by Chris McGrath and Eden Tehan in 2013.

The business developed new technology for portable, prefabricated solar arrays, re-engineering the supply chain and simplifying how solar projects are delivered, using fewer materials, rapid deployment and streamlined logistics.

If Australia makes this happen, we can become the biggest energy supplier to the Asian region – Indonesia, Malaysia and more.

The project is expected to take six to seven years to complete.

Big Battery gets bigger too

News of Sun Cable’s progress comes in the same week that South Australia’s Hornsdale Power Reserve, dubbed the Tesla Big Battery, announced plans to expand the world’s largest battery by 50% by mid 2020.

The 50 MW/64.5 MWh expansion, supported by Tesla, will be the first grid-scale battery in Australia to provide inertia benefits to the National Electricity Market (NEM), which is critical to grid stability and the future integration of renewable energy.

Solar looks set to change history – for the better.

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India’s “richer, younger urbanites” will demand more food choices

India is self-sufficient in wheat, rice, corn and milk.

But – it is becoming “richer, younger and more urban” which inevitably means consumption patterns will shift.

Just a very broad approach here – but after over two weeks in India these are the “big 6 food imports” of the next decade:

  • Nuts (almonds and walnuts)
  • Pulses (peas, chickpeas, lentils)
  • Apples, grapes and pears
  • Chocolate
  • Beverages (juice and wine)
  • Processed fruit (dried apricots, raisins, prunes and jam)

Be great to see the “Aussie Hamper” enter the gift giving market in India.

The problem with RCEP is it has forgotten to walk in India’s shoes

Many of us had “high hopes” for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). In a world of “trade wars” this seemed a way to create the world’s largest trade pact. Exciting stuff.

RCEP wanted to cover the 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the six countries with which the ASEAN bloc has free trade agreements (FTA). These included Australia, China, South Korea, Japan and New Zealand.

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But now it seems to have gone. India has called a halt to it. Or, to be more accurate, inflexible negotiations on India’s concerns have pushed India out.

Here is a problem for RCEP – under their proposed deal, India faced a potential flood of Chinese imports.

Just look at the current global situation and you might understand the Indian approach.

The Indian Government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has rightly highlighted that “India’s farmers, traders, professionals and industries have stakes in such decisions.” Seems RECP negotiators were not listening.

We have to “walk in India’s shoes” to fully understand this – a decision to safeguard the interests of poor and effort to give an advantage to India’s service sector while not shying away from opening up to global competition across sectors. That is the Indian view.

The view from India was they would have been required to eliminate tariffs on 74% of goods from China, Australia and New Zealand, and 90% goods from Japan, South Korea and ASEAN. In the midst of an economic slowdown, India “faced the risk of becoming a dumping ground for cheap Chinese goods.”

There was a special concern of Chinese agricultural products hurting Indian farmers.

RCEP advocates have hurt themselves by refusing to “walk in India’s shoes”. That’s no way to negotiate.

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