Australia-India relations generally continued to develop strongly during 1997-98, although the Indian nuclear tests in May 1998 had an adverse impact on some areas of the bilateral relationship.
The surest indicator of the substance of the Australia-India relationship, bilateral trade, continued to grow substantially, from a two-way total of $2.07 billion in 1996-97 to $2.54 billion in 1997-98. Given that total Australia-India trade was $1.25 billion in 1992-93, bilateral trade has doubled in only five years. Both exports to India and imports from India grew substantially during 1997-98: respectively by 24 per cent to $1.85 billion and by 19 per cent to $687 million. The growth in the Australia-India trade relationship has been most impressive, and comes as no surprise to those, including Council members, who had long been pointing to the potential of the relationship.
During 1997-98 the Australia-India Council sought to develop new areas of bilateral cooperation of prospective benefit to the growing commercial relationship, including agribusiness, environmental management, law, health, mining and energy, technology, and heritage conservation. The Council continued to build on opportunities arising from earlier AIC-supported activities, particularly during and since the 1996 Australia India - New Horizons promotion.
The Activities section of this report, which provides a summary of Council-supported projects during 1997-98, amply demonstrates the breadth and reach of recent Council activities.
In seeking to identify the most promising and effective areas for Council initiatives and support, the Council continued to work with leading Australian and Indian professionals and organisations.
The Council was able to continue its task of broadening and deepening the Australia-India relationship, further demonstrating the value of the 'second track' diplomacy which is the essential purpose of bilateral bodies such as the Australia-India Council. Measures adopted by the Australian Government following India's decision to proceed with nuclear testing in May 1998, while impacting on specific areas of the bilateral relationship, did not seriously affect the work of the Council.
Council membership during the year underwent important changes, with Mr Graham Maguire and Dr Mani Senthil retiring in late 1997 on the expiry of their terms of appointment and new members Ms Betty Churcher, Mr Darren Gribble, Mr Hamish McDonald and Mr Shabbir Wahid joining the Council.
A rearrangement of responsibilities in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) resulted in Mr John Dauth joining the Council in May 1998, replacing Ms Joanna Hewitt as DFAT representative. The Council was pleased to welcome the new members and the particular expertise that each brought to the Council, and expressed its appreciation of the contribution of the retiring members.
The Council continued to work closely with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which provides secretariat services and other support, and with the Australian High Commission in New Delhi and Indian Government representatives in Australia, as well as the Australian Trade Commission (Austrade) and the Australia-India Business Council.
The close relationship with the Council's Indian counterpart, the India Australia Council (IAC), continued with Lt Gen (Retd) AM Sethna, the IAC Chairman, again visiting Australia and participating in the May 1998 AIC meeting, where several areas for collaboration between the two Councils were discussed. I also took the opportunity during several visits to India in my private business capacity to meet with the IAC Chairman and with Indian government officials and other key contacts to explore possible collaboration in a number of areas.
I would like to thank all of my colleagues on the Council for their ideas, support and constructive work during the year. I would also like to thank the staff of the secretariat for their important contribution to the Council's work.
I look forward to the Council continuing to play a substantial role in the further development of links between Australia and India, including in following up the many new opportunities identified by Council-supported projects during the last several years.
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Introduction - Chairman's message - Board members - Mission statement, aim and objectives - Activities - Administrative overview - Appendix: Australia-India Council Trust Account Financial Statements 1997-98
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