New Delhi: Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard has welcomed the rethink on the ban on uranium sales to India by the present government led by Julia Gillard in his country.

"I am very pleased" that the Labour Party government of Julia Gillard is looking at lifting the ban on the sale of uranium to India, Howard said at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit in New Delhi on Saturday.

File photo of John Howard, Former Australian Prime Minister

“If we can sell uranium to Russia and China, why not India which is the largest democracy?" Howard said. According to the former Australian prime minister, India not being signatory to the NPT was not a problem, because "there are ways of replicating the NPT outside" the 1970 treaty, he said - a possible reference to a bilateral pact between India and Australia.

Australia has nearly 40% of the world’s known uranium reserves, but supplies only 19% of the world market. It has no nuclear power stations.

India, the second fastest growing of the world’s 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 5,000MW now.

Over the weekend, Australia’s Labour party is expected to vote at its convention on Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s proposal for overturning the uranium ban on India. Gillard made public her intentions last month in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald in which she urged her colleagues to drop their support for the ban, describing India as a close partner.

“I believe the time has come for the Labor Party to change this position. Selling uranium to India will be good for the Australian economy and good for jobs," Gillard later told reporters. “This will be one way we can take another step forward in our relationship with India."

elizabeth.r@livemint.com

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