Australian PM serenades India, nuclear deal on the way

Tony AbbottIn a milestone in their transforming ties, India and Australia are poised to sign a civil nuclear deal that will enable the import of Australian uranium to the energy deficient Asian economy.

Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott began his two-day trip from Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, and serenaded India’s growing global stature and its importance to Australia’s future. “The purpose of this trip, as far as I’m concerned, is to acknowledge the importance of India in the wider world, acknowledge the importance of India to Australia’s future,” said Abbot in a meeting with business leaders in Mumbai on September 4. “There is an abundance of opportunities here in India. I am determined to make the most of them,” he said on an upbeat note.

Abbott will make a pitch for enhanced trade and commercial partnership between Canberra and New Delhi. Currently, the trade volume between the two countries hovers around $15 billion which, experts say, is below potential. India also invests around $11 billion in Australia.

Ahead of his trip to India, the Australia India Business Council (AIBC) and Australia India Institute (AII), jointly submitted a white paper titled ‘The Australia— India Trade Relationship — Past, Present and Future possibilities’ to the Australian prime minister. The paper recommended that Australia engage with the new government in Delhi to reverse the declining trade with India. Trade between the two countries dropped by over 26 percent between 2009 and 2013.

Clearly, scaling up business ties with Asia’s third largest economy is high on the agenda of the Australian leader. But from India’s point of view, the showpiece outcome of Mr Abbott’s trip will be the signing of a nuclear safeguards agreement that will pave the way for the sale of uranium to India. The deal is expected to be signed in the presence of India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart in New Delhi September 5.

The negotiations on uranium sales from Australia to India started in 2012, after Canberra reversed its decision to ban uranium sale to India as it is not a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

If the deal is signed, India will be the first non-NPT signatory to receive the yellow cake from Australia. India plans to increase its nuclear electricity capacity to 63,000 MW by 2032.

The talks between the leaders of India and Australia will also focus on enhancing cooperation in areas of education, skill-building and urban management.

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