Melbourne/New Delhi: On the eve of his visit to India, Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday said he plans to sign a nuclear cooperation agreement that would allow Australia to sell uranium to India, which is expecting a "significant outcome" from his visit.
Abbott will be the first Head of Government, except leaders of SAARC nations, to visit the country after Modi-government's installation.
Accompanied by a 30-member business delegation, Abbott will have talks with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on wide-ranging issues of international, regional, bilateral importance including cooperation in key areas of security, defence and trade.
Abbott said he hoped the trip would strengthen Australia's trade relationship with India in areas including mining, finance and education, while signalling a deal was in the offing to sell uranium and help India meet soaring demand for electricity.
"I am hoping to sign a nuclear co-operation agreement that will enable uranium sales by Australia to India," he told Australian Parliament ahead of his three-day visit to India.
Abbott said Tuesday that if Australia was prepared to sell uranium to Russia then "surely we ought to be prepared to provide uranium to India under suitable safeguards", pointing out it was a "fully functioning democracy with the rule of law".
India is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but Abbott has stressed that Australia will ensure adequate safeguards, in the form of bilateral safeguards, before any deal is signed.
The agreement with India is expected to double overall exports to a billion dollars annually by 2018, according to reports. Australia is likely to emerge big source of uranium and gas, Joint Secretary (South) in External Affairs Ministry Sanjay Bhattacharyya said in New Delhi while briefing the reporters on the visit.
Bhattacharyya said India was expecting a "significant outcome" from the visit but did not confirm whether the two countries will be inking the civil nuclear pact.
India and Australia have held five rounds of "very productive" negotiations so far, the official added.
Australia holds about a third of the world's recoverable uranium resources, and exports nearly 7,000 tonnes a year.
Energy-starved India is looking to nuclear power to supplement its existing options to fuel economic growth.
Trade Minister Andrew Robb, who will accompany Abbott on the trip, said, "While India is Australia's fifth biggest export market and a valued investment partner there is enormous scope to deepen the relationship."
"Our two-way trade is worth around 15 billion dollars, however, our aim is to substantially grow this figure, when you consider our trade with China for example is worth more than 150 billion dollars," Robb said.
During the visit, the Australian Trade Minister will be holding meetings in New Delhi and Mumbai with government and business representatives to explore avenues for greater commercial engagement.
He will participate in four high-level business round tables, including those focussed on mining and energy and will join Prime Minister Abbott at a series of meetings and events.
"Our aim is to both develop our existing ties but to also ensure that both Australian and Indian businesses are aware of existing and emerging opportunities," Robb said.
"As an example, India's growing demand for skills and vocational training across a range of areas is enormous and Australia's world-class education and training providers are well equipped to help meet some of this demand," he said.
The negotiations on the uranium export deal between the two sides have been on since 2012 when the Labor party reversed its decision to ban the uranium sale to India because New Delhi has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
India has already concluded civil nuclear cooperation agreements with countries like Argentina and Kazakhstan.
Last week, Abbott had said he will visit New Delhi and Mumbai to strengthen the strategic partnership with India under the new government.
First Published: Wednesday, September 3, 2014, 18:26