Melbourne, Sept 3: Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday said he plans to sign a nuclear co-operation agreement with India that would allow Australia to sell uranium to the country when he meets his counterpart Narendra Modi this week.
Abbott said that he hoped the trip would strengthen Australia's trade relationship with India in areas including mining, finance and education, while signalling a deal was in the offing to sell uranium and help India meet soaring demand for electricity.
"I am hoping to sign a nuclear co-operation agreement that will enable uranium sales by Australia to India," he told parliament on the eve of his three-day visit to India. Abbott said yesterday that if Australia was prepared to sell uranium to Russia then "surely we ought to be prepared to provide uranium to India under suitable safeguards", pointing out it was a "fully functioning democracy with the rule of law". India is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but Abbott has stressed that Australia will ensure adequate safeguards, in the form of bilateral safeguards, before any deal is signed.
Abbott also announced that Australia would no longer sell uranium to Russia. The agreement with India is expected to double overall exports to a billion dollars annually by 2018, Sydney Morning Herald reported. Australia holds about a third of the world's recoverable uranium resources, and exports nearly 7,000 tonnes a year. Energy-starved India is looking to nuclear power to supplement its existing options to fuel economic growth.
Trade Minister Andrew Robb, who will accompany Abbott on the trip, said, "While India is Australia's fifth biggest export market and a valued investment partner there is enormous scope to deepen the relationship." "Our two-way trade is worth around 15 billion dollars, however, our aim is to substantially grow this figure, when you consider our trade with China for example is worth more than 150 billion dollars," he said.
The negotiations between the two sides have been on since 2012 after Labor party reversed its decision to ban the uranium sale to India because New Delhi has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. India has already concluded civil nuclear cooperation agreements with countries like Argentina and Kazakhstan. Last week, Abbott had said he will visit New Delhi and Mumbai to strengthen the strategic partnership with India under the new government.