Introduction to Indian Archipelago
Trade, as we know, is a basic economic concept that involves the exchange of capital, goods and services. In simple terms, bilateral trade relationships takes place between two countries when there is a demand (of goods, capital, technology, labour etc.) in one country and the other has the capacity to supply and cater to such demands. Visualising the potential of India as a major trade partner, in 1848, Sir Thomas Mitchell, the then Surveyor General of New South Wales (NSW), depicted Australia, as lying in what he said within ‘the Indian Archipelago’
(group of islands). He believed that the region is and will be influenced by India with its strong trade potential and cultural richness (Goodall, 2008).
When ships sailed and trade swelled between Australia and India
Indo-Australia trade relations can be traced back to early 1800s. Back in the 1800s, the British Empire had a strong presence in the region especially in east of India. Now, with the establishment of a colony in Australia, trade and communication between these colonial cousins were established. Ships sailed between the two continents.
In 1801, the first Australian ship laden with coal sailed to India. The trade was built initially under a monopoly arrangement with the East India Company. Calcutta authorised all movements. Lascars
(Indian seamen) were employed in large numbers (an average of 84% as on 1821) as crews on all British sailing ship routes between India and Australia. The term Lascars
was adapted from Hindi and Persian word meaning ‘an army, a camp or a band of followers’. Lascars
, though not sufficiently acknowledged, were skilful seafarers who often guided and assisted their European employers in their long and difficult voyages (Goodall et al, 2008). They temporarily lived in settlement areas and returned back at the end of their voyage. These ships imported Indian goods to Australia including candles, soap, sugar, rice, tea, shoes, rum, cotton textiles, clothing, tobacco, leather, canvas, rope, iron, copper and other general household goods. On the other hand, Australia exported coal to India.
Australia was also a regular exporter of horses to the Indian military from around 1834 until the end of WWII [Australian horses were called "Walers", bred particularly for their endurance in difficult conditions].
There were strong scientific as well as artistic connections between the two colonial cousins, facilitated by the British Empire. Movement of experts from Geological Survey of India to Australia were a regular feature, exchange of artifacts between Australian museums and Asiatic Society, Calcutta and exchange of plants and animals for botanical/zoological research and even for amusements were recorded from this period onwards. For instance, in 1851, a twenty-month old elephant was brought by the ship ‘Royal Saxon’ from Calcutta. It was then exhibited with permission on Sydney’s Hyde Park (Etheridge, 1919).
Inauguration of steam engine driven ship communication between India and Australia in 1852 further facilitated trade, commerce and people-to people links between the countries. The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) regularly and reliably delivered mail, passenger and cargo services between Australia and India (P&O, 2010). In the later years, there were increases in trade as large proportions of goods were shipped directly to India instead of via England. Watt (1889) notes, “this direct shipment is of great value, as it means that the commercial relations of India with Australia are becoming more intimate”.
Though, early trade connections and people-to-people links between India and Australia were established, language/cultural barrier and general imperialistic views towards non-European subjects (especially during the period of infamous White Australia policy) hindered the progress of relationship between the two economies.
Foraying into the future
Australia-India trade and bilateral relationship started reviving since 1940s. India opened its trade office in Australia in 1941 while appointing its first High Commissioner to Australia in 1945. On the other hand, in 1944, Australia appointed its first High Commissioner to India (DFAT, n.d). The bilateral relations between the two countries have grown manifold in the recent years with multiple diplomatic visits and the prospect of encouraging business opportunities.
Though full potential in bilateral trade is yet to be harnessed, two-way goods and services trade between Australia and India totaled AUD 14.8 billion in 2013-14. Sir Thomas Mitchell’s depiction stand true even today as is reinstated by the Indian Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi (the first Indian leader to visit Australia in 28 years) during his recent visit to Australia. In Mr. Modi’s own words, “…This is a natural partnership emerging from our shared values and interests and strategic maritime locations. India and Australia have a great economic synergy. There are huge opportunities for a partnership in every area we can think of; agriculture, agro-proceessing, resources, energy, finance, infrastructure, education and science and technology”.
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[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]By Shri Digant Bhatt [Singapore] ‘Ra’ means light, ‘Ma’ means within me, in my heart. …