With her three-day visit to India beginning Monday, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard has signaled the start of negotiations to sell uranium to the Asian nation. The Howard government had favoured the idea, but former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd cancelled talks on selling uranium.
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard (C) with Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper (L) and India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
The India business trip is part of Canberra's aim to deepen and enrich Australia's relation with its neighbours as it translates the policy of Australia in the Asian Century into reality. The White Paper being prepared by Ken Henry includes a focus on India.
However, Trade Minister Craig Emerson agreed that the nuclear issue over global concerns that selling uranium to India could cause a build-up of nuclear weapons in Asia is a thorn in the two nations' bilateral relationship.
Besides the uranium sales, Ms Gillard's visit also targets to improve business and cultural ties with India, one of the world's largest consumer markets with a population of 1.3 billion people. Thus, included in the PM's delegation are top officials of ANZ Bank and Rio Tinto.
Mr Rudd halted in 2011 the talks to sell uranium to India after the Australian Labor Party conference voted to overturn the ban on uranium sales to New Delhi. Mr Emerson said included in the talks would be the negotiation of safeguards.
India is excluded from the 22 countries that Australia has agreements to sell uranium due to India's not being a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Australia has the world's largest uranium reserves and exports over 7,000 tonnes a year. Ahead of the two nations agreeing to a uranium sales deal, Indian Auditor-General Vinod Rai warned that the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board of India is an ineffective agency due to its bureaucratic processes and negligence in monitoring safety.
Mr Rai cited that 60 per cent of regulatory inspection reports for running nuclear power plants in India were delayed by as much as 153 days or not done at all. He added that smaller radiation facilities in India run with no licences and no oversight due partly to the failure of the regulatory body to develop a nuclear and radiations safety policy for India.
Ms Gillard will also visit two slum areas in Delhi and attend the official opening of Oz Fest, the largest Australian cultural festival in India. Prior to her arrival in India, the prime minister made a surprise visit to Afghanistan to visit the Australian troops, and she also talked with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
In India, she will meet with Indian officials led by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pranab Mukherjee. She is slated to return to Australia on Thursday.
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