India, Australia to begin N-cooperation talks

India and Australia are set to announce the launch of negotiations for a bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement during the three-day visit of Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard starting Monday.

 Gillard, who will call on President Pranab Mukherjee and her Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh, is also expected to formally convey to New Delhi the shift in the policy of her government on the sale of uranium to India.

Speaking to reporters on the issue  here on Thursday, Sanjay Bhattacharya, joint security (South), External Affairs Ministry, said Australia’s ruling labour party had reversed the earlier policy of opposing sale of uranium to India and agreed to consider export of uranium which was set to be taken up by the Australian government.

The issue was discussed at a meeting External Affairs Minister S M Krishna had with his Australian counterpart Bob Carr in Phnom Penh on the sidelines of a meeting of the ASEAN-India foreign ministers recently.

Though New Delhi secured a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group in 2008, the Labor Party government in Australia till November 2011 remained firm on its stand of not selling uranium to India, particularly because the latter had not signed the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty.

India, however, has been keen to source some of the uranium required for its ambitious nuclear programme from Australia, which has nearly 40 per cent of the world’s yellowcake reserve.

Gillard’s visit to India in October is going to be her first after she took over as prime minister of Australia in June 2010. She had earlier visited the country in 2009 as deputy prime minister and education minister.

Next level relationship

The visiting dignitary, who will also meet UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Opposition Leader in Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, is likely to oversee signing of several Memoranda of Understanding between the two countries. While the bilateral trade is skewed, the two countries are likely to take their relationship to the level of strategic partnership.

The two countries will also discuss cooperation in trade and investment and is expected to give a renewed thrust to negotiations on the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement paving the way for greater market access to Indian companies and individuals. The trade volume between the two countries stands at about $ 20 billion at present, growing at the rate of 20 per cent every year.

There was an adverse trade imbalance in favour of Australia but the exports from that country was contributing to India’s development.

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