New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison are attending an online summit on Thursday to review the broad framework of bilateral strategic ties and explore ways to expand cooperation in areas of trade and defence. Also Read - Ladakh Standoff: Sharad Pawar Again Sides With Modi, Defends PM's Visit to Leh

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The two countries will finalise a landmark agreement for reciprocal access to military bases for logistics support in the summit besides sealing a number of other pacts, officials said.

It is the first time that Modi would be holding a bilateral virtual summit with a foreign leader.

“The virtual summit will be an opportunity for the two leaders to review the broad framework of the relationship, in the context of growing ties between India and Australia, and to discuss their respective responses to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement.

It said India and Australia have “very warm and friendly” relations which have been expanding and growing steadily.

The two prime ministers have already met on four occasions on the sidelines of multilateral meetings during the last one-and-half years.

The relationship between the two nations was upgraded to a Strategic Partnership’ level in 2009. Since then, both countries have expanded their cooperation in a range of key areas.

In its White Paper on Foreign Policy un 2017, Australia recognised India as the pre-eminent maritime power among Indian Ocean countries and a front-rank partner of Australia.

The bilateral economic engagement too has been on an upswing in the last few years. According to official data, the trade between the two countries was around USD 21 billion in 2018-19.

Australia’s cumulative investment in India is about USD 10.74 billion whereas India’s total investment in Australia is USD 10.45 billion. Australian Super Pension Fund has invested USD 1 billion in India’s National Investment and Infrastructure Fund.

“The two countries are looking at stepping up investments and trade with each other,” the MEA said.

It said India and Australia have developed an understanding of each other’s perspectives on regional and global issues. “We have a shared approach to a free, open, inclusive, and prosperous Indo-Pacific.”

In the last few years, both countries have been focusing on expanding maritime cooperation.

India and Australia commenced their first bilateral naval exercise AUSINDEX’ in 2015 which was focussed at deepening defence and maritime cooperation especially in the Indian Ocean.

The third edition of AUSINDEX was held in the Bay of Bengal in April 2019.

Australia has been supportive of India’s position on cross-border terrorism and on asking Pakistan to take meaningful action against terrorist groups operating from its soil.

Australia also co-sponsored the UNSC resolution to declare Azhar Masood a global terrorist.