India on Saturday will hold its first ‘two-plus-two’ dialogue with Australia between foreign and defence ministers to boost strategic ties. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh held discussions with his counterpart Peter Dutton today while Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne will be holding talks with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar tomorrow.

The talk is likely to push for India’s nuclear sector as Australia is a member of the small Like-Minded Group of NSG members and has been supporting India’s admission to the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Australia continues to work in Vienna with the “small group” of countries in support of India’s application.

India has held ministerial meetings with few countries including the US and Japan. New Delhi is planning for talks with Russia but no dates have been scheduled yet.

The decision to hold bilateral talks with Australia reflects ties between India and Australia for the last few years. Last June, during the Virtual Summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his counterpart Scott Morrison, the bilateral relations were elevated to a “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership”.

There is an active mechanism of regular consultations on various pillars, including the annual meetings between the prime ministers, foreign ministers’ dialogue, Trade Ministerial Commission, Education Ministerial Council, Energy Dialogue at ministerial level, defence policy talks, defence services staff talks, and working groups in different sectors.

The bilateral cooperation cover sectors like maritime cooperation, defence science exchanges, mutual logistics support, cooperation in cyber-enabled critical technology, critical and strategic materials, water resources management, vocational education and training, as well as public administration and governance.

Both India and Australis are members of the Quad or Quadrilateral coalition that aims to work towards ensuring a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific. Australis is also a partner in trilateral constructs like India-Australia-Indonesia and India-Australia-France. Also in ASEAN-led forums.

Amid the Covid-19 scenario and the need for resilient supply chains, trade ministers of India, Australia and Japan have launched the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI) to diversify and secure supply chains.

Bilateral trade between India and Australia stands at around US$ 20 billion annually. Negotiations on a bilateral Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) have made good progress, with an Early Harvest Agreement as an interim goal.

The Australia-India Strategic Research Fund (AISRF) supports collaboration between scientists on cutting-edge research. It comprises of India-Australia Biotechnology Fund, India-Australia Science & Technology Fund, Grand Challenge Fund and fellowship schemes.

India also has a strategic convergence with Australia which includes Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement (2014), Technical Agreement on White Shipping Information Exchange (2015), an arrangement concerning mutual logistics support (2020), military exercises like AUSINDEX and the Malabar exercise.

Australia is a resource powerhouse and has large deposits of several types of critical minerals which India requires. The country is also a major educational destination for over 100,000 Indian students. The Indian community in Australia, estimated at 720,000, is a key link and tourism and sporting links are also significant ties between the two countries.

PM Modi had visited Australia on an official visit in 2014. President Ram Nath Kovind visited in November 2018. PM Modi and Morrison have spoken a number of times over phone, most recently in May this year.

The dialogue between the foreign and defence ministers is Marise Payne’s third visit to India. Previous visits in 2019 and 2020 were in conjunction with Raisina Dialogue.