India could “rethink” its vital relationship with Australia if the Morrison government’s travel ban drags on, an expert has warned.
Australian industries have been encouraged to strengthen their ties with India after significant trade tensions with China.
But the higher education sector is among those concerned about the perception Australia’s tough travel restrictions will have on the market.
Australian National University economics professor Raghbendra Jha said there was “a lot at stake” if the ban, which includes the threat of jail or fines for people returning to Australia from India, was not eased in mid-May.
“The travel ban is going to affect the cross-flow of people for the foreseeable future including investment and business investment,” Professor Jha said.
“If it drags on then there could be a rethinking in parts of India about the relationship.
“India is a very promising investment market … so that would be something to be concerned about.
“There is the whole quad relationship, it’s not just two-way trade.”
The federal government, which has defended the travel ban saying it was based on medical advice, will review the restrictions on May 15.
Professor Jha said how well Australia communicated the travel ban to the Indian government would be crucial to curbing any adverse effects.
He also raised concerns about Indian students who prefer face-to-face learning if Australia displays a “continued reluctance” for international students to return.
India is Australia’s second-largest higher education market behind China, and is regarded by the sector as having high-quality students.
Group of Eight chief executive Vicki Thomson said it supported the government decision about the border.
But Ms Thomson said the partnership with India in study, research collaboration and people-to-people exchanges had “never been more important than now”.
“During this intensely difficult time our universities have all worked hard to support our students who are in India – be that through study extensions, financial support, counselling, and messages of solidarity,” she said.
“We know that many of our Indian students and staff are facing great hardship from the COVID situation in India and we stand ready to assist all of our Indian partners and friends in any way that we can.”
From Monday, people who have been in India within the previous fortnight before their intended arrival in Australia will face a $66,600 fine, as well as five years imprisonment for entering the country.
India reported more than 400,000 new cases on Saturday, the highest ever daily count globally, after 10 straight days of more than 300,000 new daily cases.
But Professor Jha said there was “insufficient appreciation” for the huge amount of work that had been done by India to curb the outbreak, adding they had vaccinated more than 150 million people and donated jabs to other countries in need.
Australia has agreed to provide emergency medical supplies, including non-invasive ventilators, and has offered to supply personal protective equipment to India.
Trade Minister Dan Tehan’s office was contacted for comment.