Rudd must use India visit to boost strategic, economic ties: Expert

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Sydney, Nov.10 (ANI): Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd should seek to boost bilateral economic and strategic ties with India during his first visit to the subcontinent as head of government, starting in Mumbai from Wednesday.

In a policy paper released on Tuesday, Rory Medcalfe, from the Lowy Institute for International Policy, has argued that both countries should be looking at ways to expand their strategic partnership, particularly in areas like defence and energy security.

The Rudd government, he says, needs to act on its rhetoric about India.

"Two years on (from winning office), the Rudd government's progress in pressing its claim has been uneven and in some areas downright disappointing, especially on the strategic front," the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Medcalfe, as saying.

Rudd should also use his visit to improve relations that have remained strained for most of this year after a spate of violent attacks on Indian students in Australia.

The outcry over the students' treatment has led to fears about a possible backlash affecting the 15 billion dollar a year education industry in Australia.

Education is Australia's third biggest export, and India sends the second largest number of students to Australia after China.

According to the paper, Rudd will meet a range of political and business leaders in Mumbai and New Delhi, including Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Australia is also keen to build its trade relationship with India - already the country's fourth biggest customer - given its vast potential as a consumer market.

The two countries have been considering a free trade agreement to build their economic ties.

A recently completed feasibility study reportedly found a free-trade deal would be favourable to both countries, but it remains unclear whether Rudd and Singh will give the green light to the start of negotiations.

The Rudd government's refusal to sell uranium to India might be raised ahead of a review of the NPT next year and could take on greater import for India in the context of global efforts to address climate change.

"Australia and India should work to expand common ground on nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament, which might help open the way on uranium sales," Medcalfe says.

"Both governments need fully to grasp Australia's vast potential in ensuring India's energy security," he concluded. (ANI)

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