Amanda Hodges, Australian Trade Commission, India

"We want Indian investments in Australia"

The Dollar Business caught-up with Amanda Hodges, Senior Trade & Investment Commissioner at Australian Trade Commission, to understand the opportunities that the proposed FTA can create for both the countries and to find out what the two governments are doing to strengthen bilateral trade ties.

Interview by Shivani Kapoor and Manisha Choudhari | May 2016 Issue | The Dollar Business 

TDB: How lucrative is Australia, as an investment destination, for Indian businesses and investors?

Amanda Hodges (AH): From an investment point of view, Australia offers a lot of opportunities. And not just in traditional sectors like resources and energy, where we have seen investments from many Indian companies such as Adani Group, but in other sectors as well. Australia is a big producer of food. There is an opportunity to invest in agriculture. For instance, lentils and pulses are a real need in India, and Australia has a favourable agricultural environment to grow these crops. So, India can capitalise on the potential that Australia offers in this space, and several such areas. 

TDB: Australian Trade Minister Steven Ciobo recently criticised India’s bureaucracy for posing hurdles for a favourable business environment in the country. Do you agree?

AH: The focus of my role is to attract Indian investments into Australia, and it includes some trade work as well. Although it’s not actually about getting Australians to invest in India, there’s a bit of that too. India has a culture of problem-solving and it’s a very good thing. In fact, we have a big presence in India – we have two consulates general and a High Commission, and as such a lot of people are working behind the scenes to make things happen. To add to this the Australian Trade Commission has 10 offices across major cities in India. So, from our perspective, we haven’t seen a deal not going through because we couldn’t overcome a hurdle. 

TDB: Through an FTA, which is being negotiated at the moment, Australia is looking for access to India’s expanding services market. Where exactly do you envisage opportunities?

AH: I think the opportunity for Australia lies more in leveraging the enablers that are in India, for example, companies like TCS and Tech Mahindra that have a big global clientele. Let’s say we come up with an invention, such as a car application, and collaborate with an Indian technology giant that can sell the product to a client in a third country. It’s really a piece of a puzzle in a global value chain, and part of it is doing good things with the R&D happening in Australia. 

TDB: What is your take on the ‘Make in India’ initiative?

AH: It’s fabulous. The campaign is a positive approach that puts India on a platform from where it can engage more with the world and increase its overall trade volume. International trade linkages are rising steadily as the Central and State governments are becoming more open to foreign investments. The initiative also has a huge head-turning effect because it sends strong positive signals that India wants to get engaged globally. For businesses, such collaborations are a win-win situation. So if a global company can get closer to an Indian customer through this initiative, that’s a great start. 

TDB: While the India-Australia Nuclear Deal was recently given a green signal, an FTA is to be finalised soon – in fact, we have missed the deadline. How will these agreements benefit trade between India and Australia?

AH: There would be streamlining in all kinds of processes in trade, and hopefully there would be some reductions in tariffs and duties that will open up the market once the FTA is in place. It will allow India to have access to goods that it may not have had easy access to before.  Of course, Australia will also have access to the burgeoning middle-class of India. India is becoming a sophisticated market on the ICT (information and communications technology) side. It’s highly digital, and then there are interesting e-commerce platforms that are fast emerging. Agreements in this area will generate multi-fold benefits for both nations. 

TDB: Do you really see Indian IT sector’s potential scaling up in future?

AH: I think it’s a really exciting time for the Indian IT sector. It has transformed itself from just being a BPO centre to a provider of high-tech services and solutions to multinational clients across the globe. The strategic plan most of the players in the industry have adopted is to acquire higher value, add new technologies, and invest in R&D. I believe the time is ripe for such companies to go global. 

TDB: What barriers to trade and investment do Australian enterprises encounter in India? What are the two governments doing to remove such hurdles which are likely to hamper mutual economic cooperation between the two?

AH: India is a complex country, which I believe is the first hurdle – understanding the country and the opportunities it offers are big challenges in themselves. But I think once an Australian firm narrows down on a customer, we often see some good alliances and partnerships; and we see the business progressing. It depends on the industry actually, but then, I would say, that doesn’t restrict anyone from investing in India – the country is very inclusive and full of opportunities. 

TDB: SMEs in both countries contribute significantly to the respective economies. Is there anything in the pipeline when it comes to collaboration between Indian and Australian SMEs?

AH: We have a lot of things in the pipeline. Recently, we initiated some ICT pitching sessions where we connected 30 start-ups from Australia, through a video conference, with five Indian technology corporations. Indian companies were given a pitch on start-up technologies. It resulted in some good follow-up dialogue, and a few Technology Transition Agreements. Non-disclosure agreements are now being signed to discuss how that technology can be transferred to India. 

TDB: What would be your message to Indian exporters who are looking at Australia as a potential market?

AH: Australia is a fabulous destination to venture into business as it has a sophisticated market. It’s a multi-cultural market with low risks involved and good banking and legal frameworks. Further, Australia is close to Asia and offers great potential for Indian companies. In case you’re keen to set-up business or a manufacturing unit there, you can have your product certified in Australia, which (the certification) will have a huge positive impact when going international.