NEW DELHI — Australia’s prime minister is expected to begin talks on civil nuclear cooperation with Indian leaders during a three-day visit to New Delhi that began Monday, part of efforts to boost economic and strategic ties between the two countries.
At the top of the agenda for Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her Indian counterpart, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who will hold talks Wednesday, will be the formal start of negotiations on an agreement that will allow Australia to sell uranium to India.
Energy-starved India is among the few nations building new nuclear power plants, and Australia – the world’s third largest uranium supplier – is in search of new markets in the wake of Japan’s Fukushima disaster that curtailed demand.
“Their industry is all geared up to produce more uranium and there is not the market to buy the uranium, so they want India in," says Bharat Karnad, a strategic academic at New Delhi’s Center for Policy Alternatives. "From India’s point of view, there are more sellers of uranium now than anytime before, so it can pick and choose and get the best terms.”
The actual sale of uranium by Australia to India may still be some time away. The United States, France and Russia have already signed civil nuclear agreements with New Delhi since a three-decade global ban on uranium supplies to India was lifted in 2008.
Australia also wants to boost exports of other minerals to India, such as coal and iron ore, which Australia has in abundance, and for which Indian demand is rising.
Bilateral trade between the countries is worth $20 billion and growing at 20 percent a year.
According to Karnad, strategic ties are also getting a boost.
“Things are going to get more intense as far as the security and military cooperation is concerned," he says. "This is acquiring heft – strategic heft – and I think it is building up momentum.”
The two sides will also discuss how to better protect Indian students studying in Australia. A wave of attacks on Indian students in Melbourne in 2009 clouded ties and led to a drop in the number of Indian students headed to Australian universities.
The Australian prime minister arrives in India after making a surprise visit to Australian troops in Afghanistan.