Modi-Morrison virtual meet today, Rs 1,500 cr projects to be unveiled

Australia will announce initiatives worth about Rs 1,500 crore in areas including education, clean tech, critical minerals, space, foreign trade, skills, innovation, and defence exchanges as Prime Minister Narendra Modi holds a virtual summit with his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison on Monday.

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Sources said that an Australia-India young defence officers’ exchange programme will be launched on Monday, named after CDS General Bipin Rawat, who died in a helicopter crash in December last year.

Australia will also announce the return of around 29 culturally significant artefacts to India during the summit.

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Sources said that an early harvest agreement on economy and trade was likely to be signed towards the end of the month. A signing at the summit was unlikely.

Of the Rs 1,500 crore package of initiatives, Rs 193 crore will be for clean tech and critical minerals, which will essentially be used for securing lithium, among other things, from Australia.

Australia has large lithium reserves and can be a reliable supplier of the critical mineral needed for electric vehicles and batteries. Mines minister Pralhad Joshi is expected to travel to Australia soon to firm up details to secure the supply chain.

Among other heads will be Rs 136 crore on an initiative on space cooperation, Rs 152 crore on a centre for foreign trade in Australia, Rs 97 crore on an initiative on trade, skills, and innovation, and Rs 93 crore on scientific innovation.

The two countries will also launch scholarships on the lines of the Fulbright or Rhodes scholarships, which will be called the Maitri scholarships, sources said.

A centre for excellence in critical and emerging technologies will be launched in Bengaluru, along with a new consulate general in the city, the sources said.

An agreement on broadcasting will be firmed up to broadcast Indian programmes in local languages in Australia, sources said.

There will be an agreement to establish a task force on recognition of each other’s educational qualifications, which will facilitate easier movement and mobility of students and skilled professionals between the two countries.

A joint letter of intent on migration and mobility partnership will also be firmed up at the summit.

A source said that Monday’s summit will emphasise that Australia and India are “top tier partners, and we will deliver greater ambition and practical progress for the relationship. The initiatives that will be announced will underline the technology, talent and trading spirit between the two nations”.

“They will address some of the most pressing challenges and opportunities both Australia and India face and they’ll help deliver the resilience, prosperity and security that we both seek for the region. It will demonstrate that the Prime Ministers are building the bilateral architecture that fits the post pandemic world,” the source said.

The source said that Prime Minister Morrison will announce a series of creative new initiatives that will lift the bilateral cooperation to a level amounting to more than Rs 1,500 crore. “It forms the largest ever Australian government investment in the India-Australia bilateral relationship,” the source said.

Monday’s summit will follow the first virtual summit of June 4, 2020, when the India-Australia relationship was elevated to a “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership”. That was India’s first virtual summit, in the middle of the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The leaders will take stock of progress made on various initiatives under the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership. The virtual summit will lay the way forward on new initiatives and enhanced cooperation in a diverse range of sectors between India and Australia,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi had said on Thursday while announcing the summit.

The crisis in Ukraine is expected to figure in the talks between the two Prime Ministers.

Australian High Commissioner Barry O’Farrell, when asked on Sunday about the Ukraine issue coming up, said that at the Quad leaders’ summit in February, all countries, including India, had recognised that “each country has a different perspective, because of its particular bilateral relationships”.

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