New Delhi, Oct 12: In what could be a milestone in their bilateral relations, India and Australia are expected to announce the formal launch of negotiations for a bilateral civil nuclear pact after Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard holds talks here.
The launch of nuclear negotiations will pave the way for the sealing of a civilian nuclear deal, and will remove the last stumbling block in accelerating bilateral ties which are increasingly acquiring a multi-dimensional character.
Gillard’s three-day visit to India, her first as Australian prime minister, begins Monday.
She will hold talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during which the prospects of civil nuclear cooperation and intensification of relations in areas like trade and investment, science and technology and education will figure in the discussions.
Gillard’s visit takes place months after a reversal of Canberra’s long-entrenched policy by the ruling Labour Party on supply of uranium to India in December last year.
Ahead of the visit, senior officials of the external affairs ministry said the issue was last discussed between the foreign ministers of the two countries last month and they hoped that this process will be carried further during the talks next week.
“The Australian Labour Party under Prime Minister Gillard had reversed the earlier policy and had agreed to consider the export of uranium to India under certain conditions,” Sanjay Bhattacharyya, joint secretary (south) in charge of Australia in the external affairs ministry, said here.
“This matter was then to be taken up by the Australian government, and so we expect that the Australian government will take this process further,” he said.
Syed Akbaruddin, spokesperson of the external affairs ministry, said the Australian government has indicated that it was still working out its internal processes.
“Once they communicate to us that their internal processes are complete, the formal negotiations will start,” he said.
The negotiations are, however, set to go down the wire as Australia will be insisting on a stringent uranium safeguards agreement and greater access to Indian nuclear facilities to inspect safe use of uranium supplied to India.
Australia, home to the world’s largest deposits of uranium, will be looking to strike a hard bargain as the leadership will have to sell the deal to the non-proliferation hawks who are firmly opposed to any uranium deal with a country which has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Scaling up trade and investment will be another key highlight of Gillard’s India visit. The talks are expected to give a fresh impetus to negotiations on Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) which will provide greater market access to Indian exporters of goods and services. India and Australia will be launching the next round of CEPA negotiations in November.
Bilateral trade in goods has grown rapidly and currently stands at about $17.4 billion in 2011-12. India will, however, be looking to address the issue of adverse trade imbalance as Australian imports are around $15 billion, while India’s exports are just under $2.4 billion.
Indian investments in Australia are estimated to be about $11 billion as approved last year. About $450 million Australian investments are currently in place in India.
Australia is home to 450,000 Indians. The attacks on Indian students in Australia a couple of years ago have not dimmed the appeal of that country as an education destination with the Australian government launching a multi-pronged plan to prevent such attacks. Currently, there are about 36,000 Indian students who are studying in Australia.