New Delhi, Oct 17: In a bold step that opens a new chapter in their bilateral ties, India and Australia Wednesday decided to start negotiations for a civil nuclear deal, that will pave the way for the sale of uranium by Canberra to New Delhi.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held talks with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on a wide cluster of issues that included civil nuclear cooperation, intensification of economic ties and enhanced counter-terror and security cooperation.
Seeking to recast their relationship, the two sides inked four pacts, including one on civilian space cooperation, and also announced a slew of steps to boost ties that included annual meetings at the summit level, a ministerial-level dialogue on energy security and setting up of a water technology partnership.
“The prime ministers announced that India and Australia would commence negotiations on a bilateral Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement which, for Australia, is a prerequisite for uranium sales to other countries,” said a joint statement after the talks.
“We have agreed to begin negotiations for an agreement on civil nuclear energy cooperation, which will precede actual cooperation,” Manmohan Singh said at a joint media statement with Gillard.
“As you are aware, under Prime Minister Gillard, the Australian Labour Party has articulated a new policy on uranium sales to India. This is recognition of India’s energy needs as well as of our record and credentials and I have expressed to Prime Minister Gillard our India’s appreciation of this development,” he said.
At a banquet at Hyderabad House, Manmohan Singh toasted Gillard for her pathbreaking initiative to start nuclear deal negotiations with India. Gillard stressed that “Australia has opened the door for uranium sales to India” and underlined that the decision has removed a “point of tension” in relations between the nations.
The launch of nuclear negotiations marks a turning point in bilateral ties that were blossoming in virtually all areas, but were held back by Canberra’s reservations over selling uranium to a country which has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Gillard, however, has made it clear that the deal could take a year or two before uranium exports actually begin.
In December last year, Gillard pushed the ruling Labour Party to reverse an earlier policy of Australia, the world’s third largest exporter of the yellow cake, not selling uranium to countries which have not signed the NPT, arguing that this was a necessary step to bolster ties with one of Asia’s biggest economies.
The two sides also signed four pacts that included cooperation in the field of wool and woollen products, cooperation in student mobility and welfare and cooperation in civil space science, technology and education. They decided to expand the strategic canvas of their partnership by agreeing to work closely in creating an inclusive order in the Asia-Pacific region and in boosting counter-terror cooperation.
The two sides decided to step up negotiations for a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement that will help scale up bilateral trade and investment. Speaking to business leader, Gillard said the two countries have set a goal of doubling bilateral trade to $40 billion by 2015 Bilateral trade in goods was estimated to be $17.4 billion in 2011-12, while India’s investments in Australia are around S$ 11 billion.
They also decided to start negotiations for an agreement on transfer of sentenced persons.