With the tsunami of COVID-19, Australian businesses need to maintain their focus on India

A second wave or tsunami of COVID-19 infections is ravaging India. Predictions are that it will peak in mid-May, with anecdotal evidence suggesting one third of the workforce is suffering from COVID or supporting someone who is suffering.

It’s a dire situation but with international medical aid starting to flow in and lockdowns increasingly coming into place, there is hope that the impact and resurgence of the virus can be curtailed over the coming weeks. Australia’s initial assistance through the provision of oxygen, ventilators, masks, gloves and gowns will be well appreciated and is consistent with its ever increasing ‘dosti’ or friendship with India.

Whilst physical travel to India may not be possible right now, Australian businesses need to continue to focus on India – to take a more strategic and longer-term view encompassing investment and/or other forms of collaboration with local Indian partners.

Today, despite the unfolding tragedies, Indian corporates and their teams continue to deliver 24/7 services around the globe. India’s information technology services companies have maintained their high levels of delivery to keep the lights on at many of Australia’s public and private sector organisations. This courageous spirit is testament to the resolve and resolute of the Indian people.

Australia’s 700,000+ strong Indian diaspora, of which I am one, are also impacted and the current travel ban between the two countries will only make it more difficult. But they too must find new and different ways to support each other and India’s recovery from the current situation.

The Government of India’s mantra to build ‘Atma Nirbhar Bharat’ or a Self-Reliant India is very evident today. India’s underfunded and underdeveloped health system is just one of the fundamental areas requiring investment and upgrade both in terms of service capacity and capability by leveraging their best in world class know-how, processes and technology. Australian expertise in medical diagnostics, telemedicine and robust systems and processes should be brought to the fore to help India with achieving much greater effectiveness and efficiencies within its healthcare sector. Other key priority areas requiring investment include infrastructure (including public utilities) and manufacturing across sectors.

Investment in these areas is crucial for India’s growth and development presenting immense commercial opportunities for domestic and foreign businesses, including in Australia.

Speaking at a joint DFAT NSW and the Export Council of Australia India webinar last month, Peter Varghese AO maintained that despite the impact of COVID-19, ‘there is no market over the next 20 years which offers more growth opportunities for Australian business than India’ based on a likely ‘V’ shaped post pandemic recovery. This of course was the slogan of his 2018 report to the Australian Government, An India Economic Strategy through to 2035 (IES) based on India’s scale and fundamental macroeconomic growth indicators which still hold true today.

In fact, mere days ahead of the current resurgence of COVID-19 infections in India, the IMF had projected an impressive 12.5 percent growth rate for India in 2021, stronger than that of China, the only major economy to have a positive growth rate last year during the COVID-19 pandemic.We need to respect India’s sovereignty but at the same time act as responsible international citizens.

As India faces the tragedy of the growing numbers of COVID-19 cases, Australia has the opportunity to step up to offer immediate help with aid but also builds a long-term relationship that embraces the entrepreneurial nature of the India offering more than just immediate aid. Something that will benefit both Australia and India in the future.

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