India and Australia, which has about a third of the world’s recoverable uranium resources and exports nearly 7,000 tonnes of it a year, launched uranium sales talks in 2012.
In a major step towards realising its nuclear energy ambitions, India signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with Australia here on Friday.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart, Tony Abbott, were present during the signing of the agreement. The two nations have held five rounds of negotiations on the deal since 2012, when Australia reversed its policy on nuclear sales to India. The policy was based on India’s refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Mr. Abbott told The Hindu that the exception was made in view of India’s “model behaviour” on its nuclear capabilities. “From the time of Independence, India has scrupulously followed international laws regardless of the ups and downs of the political situation in New Delhi. There is a very high level of trust between us, and that is why we are signing this agreement,” he said.
Australia will now be a “long-term reliable supplier of uranium to India,” said an External Affairs Ministry press release, and will provide for the “supply of uranium, production of radio isotopes, nuclear safety and other areas of cooperation.”
Mr. Abbott said he was keen that more Indian investment should follow the nuclear deal signed on Friday, which clears uranium sales to India. In an exclusive interview to The Hindu, Mr Abbott said he would “welcome” Indian companies in the energy and infrastructure sectors. In particular, he mentioned the Gujarat-based Adani Group and the Andhra-based GVK Group for their large investments in the recent past, defending them against allegations by environmental organisations like Greenpeace.
“Environmental groups are very hard to please and we have very high environmental standards in Australia. I am confident that there can be no reasonable objection to the current proposal. Adani Group is speaking of $16 billion for this mine, and India’s investments of under $20 billion will almost double the total amount,” said Mr. Abbott.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Australia in November this year to attend the G-20 summit, when he is expected to face international pressure over India’s decision not to sign the WTO trade facilitation agreement.
Mr. Abbott said he was keen to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) as soon as possible.
Mr. Abbott also said India must take the recent video by al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, announcing a branch of the terror group in the Indian subcontinent, seriously. In bilateral talks, Mr. Abbott and Mr. Modi discussed counter-terror cooperation.
Mr. Abbott said: “I think the difficulty is that this movement, this ‘death cult’ has proven horribly attractive to too many people. There are some 60 Australians who are or have been fighting with terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq, some with Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, and that’s appalling beyond belief.”