In­dia’s en­ergy vow: ‘We will buy more of your good coal’

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - BEN PACK­HAM FOR­EIGN AF­FAIRS AND DE­FENCE COR­RE­SPON­DENT

In­dia says its de­mand for Aus­tralia’s “very good coal” will ex­pand in com­ing years, and the ap­proval of the Adani mine in Queens­land has strength­ened the trad­ing re­la­tion­ship, as it urges the Mor­ri­son govern­ment to “plug in” to its surg­ing con­sumer mar­ket.

As re­gional na­tions at the Pa­cific Is­land Fo­rum in Tu­valu call on Aus­tralia to com­mit to a tran­si­tion away from coal, In­dia’s high com­mis­sioner, Ajay Gon­dane, said his coun­try was re­ly­ing on our coal to help fuel its devel­op­ment.

Dr Gon­dane said that de­spite ef­forts to bring down In­dia’s re­liance on coal-fired power — which gen­er­ates about 60 per cent of his na­tion’s power — con­sump­tion of coal would con­tinue to rise.

“That mix is not go­ing to sub­stan­tially change. The ab­so­lute num­ber will be equal or more,” Dr Gon­dane said. “We will need all this coal. We

have a lot of coal. But … it’s not a clean coal. And the Aus­tralian coal is very good coal.”

Dr Gon­dane said the Adani mine ce­mented what would be “a very long-term re­la­tion­ship” trad­ing coal be­tween Aus­tralia and In­dia. “Coal will be needed by us in any case. And if this was not avail­able we would have to im­port from In­done­sia or Mozam­bique or some­where like that.

“So why not have a sub­stan­tial ba­sis in this re­la­tion­ship in the form of coal? We need clean coal for our power plants.”

As the Mor­ri­son govern­ment looks to di­ver­sify eco­nomic re­la­tion­ships to hedge against po­ten­tial trade shocks with China, Dr Gon­dane called on in­vestors to shed “out­dated” per­cep­tions and take ad­van­tage of a new dy­namism sweep­ing his coun­try. In a wide-rang­ing in­ter­view with The Aus­tralian to mark In­dia’s 73rd an­niver­sary of in­de­pen­dence to­day, Dr Gon­dane re­vealed his coun­try was fin­ish­ing a re­port aimed at tur­bocharg­ing en­gage­ment be­tween the two na­tions.

It is a re­sponse to a 2016 Aus­tralian re­port by for­mer De­part­ment of For­eign Af­fairs and Trade sec­re­tary Pe­ter Varghese, who found there was “no mar­ket over the next 20 years which of­fers more growth op­por­tu­ni­ties for Aus­tralian busi­ness than In­dia”.

Dr Gon­dane, who fin­ishes his post­ing in Oc­to­ber, said In­dia’s 7 per cent an­nual growth rate and bur­geon­ing youth mar­ket of­fered un­matched op­por­tu­ni­ties for Aus­tralian busi­nesses. De­scrib­ing Aus­tralia as an “en­ergy su­per­power”, he said In­dia would also need ac­cess to new, cleaner LNG.

Hopes are high for the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship, with Scott Mor­ri­son look­ing to make an of­fi­cial visit to Delhi at the in­vi­ta­tion of In­dian coun­ter­part Naren­dra Modi.

In­dia, which like Aus­tralia has re­fused to sign up to China’s Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive, shared “com­mon think­ing” with Aus­tralia due to the coun­tries’ shared lan­guage, sim­i­lar po­lit­i­cal sys­tems, and his­tor­i­cal links to Bri­tain, Dr Gon­dane said. “Ul­ti­mately what we want to see is the tri­umph of democ­racy, the tri­umph of the rule of law, the tri­umph of the peo­ple,” he told The Aus­tralian. He de­scribed the nascent QUAD se­cu­rity bloc of In­dia, Aus­tralia, the US and Ja­pan — which an­a­lysts say In­dia has stalled through lack of en­thu­si­asm — as an “evolv­ing mech­a­nism”. “It will ac­cel­er­ate,” he said. “(But) we are fo­cus­ing on our se­cu­rity in the In­dian Ocean re­gion.”

Dr Gon­dane said he had “no com­ments on China”, but drew a stark com­par­i­son be­tween Bei­jing’s debt-led part­ner­ships un­der the BRI, and his own coun­try’s “trans­par­ent” devel­op­ment sup­port to African na­tions.

He high­lighted the Port of Ham­ban­tota in neigh­bour­ing Sri Lanka, which had to be signed over to Bei­jing on a 99-year lease af­ter Sri Lanka failed to meet its debt re­pay­ments. “This is the dif­fer­ence be­tween an open so­ci­ety and a closed so­ci­ety. We are open,” he said.

In­dia is Aus­tralia’s fourth-largest trad­ing part­ner, with ex­ports of goods and ser­vices to the sub­con­ti­nen­tal gi­ant val­ued at $21.1 billion last year, and two-way trade at $29.1bn. The Varghese re­port set out a plan, led by ser­vices ex­ports such as ed­u­ca­tion, to grow ex­ports to In­dia to about $45bn in 2035, and lift out­ward Aus­tralian in­vest­ment in In­dia from $10.3bn to more than $100bn by 2035.

Dr Gon­dane said In­dia’s re­sponse to the Varghese re­port, by diplo­mat Anil Wad­hwa, was set for re­lease in Oc­to­ber. He said the Wad­hwa re­port would have a heavy fo­cus on op­por­tu­ni­ties in ar­eas like data man­age­ment, ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, hy­dro­gen power, ge­net­ics, re­new­able en­ergy and space tech­nol­ogy.

He said fi­nal en­vi­ron­men­tal ap­proval for In­dian-owned Adani was a “good sig­nal” to In­dian in­vestors dis­cour­aged by the de­lays.

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