Australia wants to engage more with South Asia(Lead)

August 5th, 2008 - 3:29 pm ICT by IANS  

By Neena Bhandari
Sydney, Aug 5 (IANS) Australia, invited as an observer to the SAARC, is eager to engage more regularly with South Asian leaders. “Australia enjoys strong defence and counter-terrorism links with South Asia. We need to do more with our engagement in South Asia, and engaging regularly with South Asia’s premier regional body is a positive step forward,” Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Tuesday.

“Observer status at SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) will enable Australia to annually engage South Asian governments at the highest levels,” Smith said in a statement.

Australia joins other observers to SAARC including China, the European Union, Iran, Japan, Mauritius, South Korea and the US.

With 280,000 people migrating permanently to Australia from SAARC countries and nearly 93,000 South Asian students enrolled in Australian educational institutions last year, people-to-people links between Australia and SAARC countries have been growing.

Indians have become the second largest group of skilled migrants in Australia under the temporary skilled migration programme in 2007-08. India is also Australia’s second largest source of overseas students after China, with more than 52,000 Indian students currently enrolled in educational institutions Down Under.

Australia’s merchandise and services trade with SAARC countries - India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, the Maldives and Nepal - was over Australian $13 billion ($12 billion) in 2007. Institutional links in areas such as education, science and technology, and policy dialogues have also grown.

During 2007-2008, Australia will be providing development assistance to South Asia to the tune of around $220 million.

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