New Delhi, Oct 17: In a bold step that opens a new door in bilateral ties, India and Australia Wednesday decided to start negotiations for a civil nuclear deal that will enable 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.
The two sides inked four pacts and announced a slew of steps that will imbue their burgeoning ties with greater depth and diversity. The initiatives include annual meetings at the summit level, either bilaterally or during multilateral events, 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.
He added: “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.”
At a banquet at Hyderabad House, Manmohan Singh toasted Gillard for her pathbreaking initiative to start nuclear deal negotiations with India.
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, the prime mover behind the India-Australia nuclear rapprochement, however, has made it clear that the deal could take a year or two before uranium exports begin. In December last year, Gillard pushed the ruling Labour Party to reverse an earlier policy of not selling uranium to countries which have not signed the NPT and argued that this was a necessary step to bolster ties with one of Asia’s biggest economies.
The decision has removed a “point of tension” in relations between the nations, Gillard stressed. “Australia has changed, in determining to export uranium to India. India is changing, through important economic reforms in areas like energy, aviation and retail,” she added. 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 also decided to expand the strategic canvas of their partnership by agreeing to work closely in creating an inclusive order in the Asia-Pacific region. 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 leaders, 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 people serving prison terms.