New Delhi: India and Australia are expected to start talks on civil nuclear cooperation during the 15-17 October visit of Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard to India, people close to the development said on Thursday, a move that could boost ties between the two countries.
This is Gillard’s first visit as Prime Minister and the trip is expected to boost ties between resource-rich Australia and Asia’s third-largest economy, foreign ministry officials said.
“A number of memoranda of understanding (agreements) are expected to be concluded and we hope to make a few announcements on new initiatives,” said Sanjay Bhattacharya, joint secretary in the ministry of external affairs. “Our bilateral relations have made rapid strides in strengthening cooperation in the fields of trade, investment, energy, mining, science and technology, information technology, education and defence cooperation.”
Though both countries upgraded ties to a strategic partnership in 2009 during the visit of then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, relations between the two countries were strained by alleged racial attacks on Indian students in Australia and the ruling Labour Party’s refusal to sell uranium to India to fuel its civil nuclear power programme since India was not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.
But a series of measures by the Australian government, including increased security for Indian students, helped ease the situation. And in December, Australia’s Labour Party convention voted to lift the long-standing ban on exporting uranium to India though it advocated attaching stringent conditions to the sales.
During Gillard’s visit, both sides are expected to announce the launch of talks on uranium sales, the two people cited above separately said. The comments follow a recent report in the The Australian newspaper which said that during Gillard’s visit, she would look at opening negotiations on a safeguard treaty required to be concluded before uranium exports could commence.
India, one of the fastest-growing major economies, is heavily dependent on fuel imports and is seeking to diversify its energy basket to power economic growth. It aims to upgrade its nuclear power generation capacity to 20,000 megawatts (MW) by 2020, from 5,000 MW now.