New Delhi, Sept.12 : Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and his Australian counterpart Stephen Smith met here today and discussed bilateral, regional and international issues of mutual interest and importance.
A joint statement issued by the governments of the two countries said the discussions covered a wide-range of subjects, reflecting the increasingly close ties between India and Australia.
It stated that India-Australia relations have significantly grown in the recent years encompassing greater political, economic, defence and scientific fields, and people-to-people cooperation.
Recognising the importance of close and mutually beneficial relations between the two important countries in their respective regions, both Ministers agreed to take the level of relations to a "strategic partnership" and work towards the objective.
Both ministers welcomed the increasing dynamism of the economic partnership, and noted in particular the growing diversification of trade and investment linkages.
The complementarity of the two economies pointed to further scope for creating business opportunities in both countries. hey noted the progress on the feasibility study on Free Trade Agreement (FTA), and reaffirmed the importance of concluding the study on schedule by the end of the year so that both the Governments could consider recommendations and determine next steps. They also reaffirmed their strong commitment to the successful conclusion of the WTO Doha Round.
The ministers noted the importance of two-way resources engagement between India and Australia and welcomed the ongoing work to develop strategy papers under the Joint Working Group on Energy and Resources, to further enhance Australia-India cooperation.
They also welcomed the Chief Executive Officers' Forum initiative, which is being established and noted that the Australia-India Roundtable would be held in November in Sydney with the Lowy Institute and the Indian Council of World Affairs as the convenors.
Building on the initiatives announced at the Foreign Ministers' Framework Dialogue in Canberra on 23 June, 2008, the Ministers expressed satisfaction at the conclusion of Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in the Field of Water Management, and establishment of Joint Working Group on Passports, Visas and Consular Matters.
They welcomed the continuing strong relationship between India and Australia in science and technology. In particular they noted the success of the Australia-India Strategic Research Fund in attracting high-tech projects, including in innovative fields such as biotechnology, which could have significant commercial spin-offs.
The recent signing of an MOU between CSIR, India and CSIRO, Australia to carry out joint research activities through exchange of scientists/researchers was also welcomed.
The Ministers noted that important people-to-people links were being underpinned by education. In the first seven months of 2008, over 77,000 Indian students have enrolled in Australian institutions - making Australia the second most popular destination for Indian students seeking education overseas.
Welcoming the increase in cooperation between the Armed Forces of India and Australia across an expanding front, the Ministers took note of the scheduling of the inaugural bilateral talks between Chairman, COSC and CNS of India and Chief of Defence Forces of Australia to be held in November 2008.
The Ministers highlighted their respective Governments' long-standing commitment to strengthening regional and multilateral fora. They noted that India and Australia were cooperating in regional and multilateral fora at a significantly higher level than ever before. India and Australia accorded high priority to the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum, and were committed to working closely together in both fora.
Mukherjee noted Australia's initiative on Asia Pacific Community (APC). Smith mentioned that Australian Prime Minister's Envoy, Mr Woolcott, would visit India later in 2008 as part of his regional consultations on APC.
Mukherjee welcomed the South Asian Association Regional Cooperation's decision to accord Observer Status to Australia. Mr. Smith thanked India for its support, and noted that Australia's interest in Observer Status reflected Australia's enhanced commitment to South Asia.
Smith reiterated Australia's support for India's membership of APEC.
Smith reiterated Australia's support for India's inclusion as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in keeping with the current political and economic realities of the century.
Both noted that Australia and India both had proud histories of positive engagement in the United Nations and, if successful in their current bids for non-permanent seats on the UNSC, each country would bring significant benefits to the deliberations of that body. They agreed to continue to work together closely in the United Nations.
They stated their respective Governments' longstanding commitment to nuclear non-proliferation. Mukherjee noted the establishment at the initiative of the Governments of Australia and Japan of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament and the recent visit to India by Gareth Evans, Australia's Co-chair of the Commission. The Ministers agreed to advance efforts to strengthen the global non-proliferation and disarmament system. Mukherjee appreciated the constructive and positive role played by Australia in the recent meetings of the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
Both noted that India and Australia had a strong commitment to countering the scourge of global terrorism and that cooperative links between the two countries continued to grow steadily in this area. Smith condemned the recent attacks on Indian Embassy in Kabul as well as terrorist attacks in Ahmedabad and Bangalore, and conveyed Australia's condolences to the victims.
Smith conveyed Australia's condolences to the Government and people of India on the tragic loss of life and widespread hardship resulting from the devastating floods which affected the state of Bihar.
The ministers noted the close cooperation between India and Australia in the areas of environment, water and climate change issues. They stressed the need for an effective global response to climate change and reaffirmed their commitment to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Ministers noted the ongoing cooperation between India and Australia in the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate (APP).
They concluded that the relationship was being fostered and transformed by the constructive efforts by governments, business, and the communities of both India and Australia.
They reiterated their resolve to continue to drive a renewed relationship based on economic, political and strategic convergence, a similar legal, political and multicultural heritage, and a strong commitment to regional and multilateral fora.