India, Aus may finalise uranium safeguards agreement next week

Melbourne: India and Australia are likely to finalise a safeguards agreement during Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's visit to New Delhi next week that would open up uranium sales to the Asian giant.

Gillard will arrive in New Delhi on Monday for a three-day visit.

She will meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other senior government ministers, apart from calling on President Pranab Mukherjee and Congress party leader Sonia Gandhi. She will also meet leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj.

According to a report in 'The Australian', it was understood that during her visit to India Gillard would be looking at opening up negotiations on a safeguard treaty that would be required before uranium exports could commence.

The report quoted official sources as saying that a significant amount of work would still be needed despite Australia's agreement to open the door to potential uranium sales to India.

"Any treaty would include the same safeguards as contained in the treaty, as well as strict rules on access to nuclear facilities in India," it said.

In December last year, Australia's ruling Labour Party led by Gillard cleared the way for export of Australian uranium to India after a strong debate on the floor of the party's 46th national conference.

Despite resistance from opponents, the landmark policy change was carried out, paving the way for the first Australian country-to-country agreement to sell the yellow cake to a country outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Australia's known uranium resources are the world's largest – 31 per cent of the world total. In 2011-12 Australia produced 7,700 tonnes of uranium oxide concentrate. It is the world's third-ranking producer, behind Kazakhstan and Canada, according to the World Nuclear Association.

During her visit, Gillard will hold a chief executives forum as part of moves to strengthen business ties between the two countries.

Trade between Australia and India has been growing more than 10 per cent in recent years and two-way goods trade has grown from about USD 3.3 billion in 2000 to more than USD 20bn last year.

Gillard will also launch an Australian cultural festival called "Ozfest", which is to run until February and include over 100 events in 18 Indian cities.

According to 'the Age' Gillard would be visiting two slum areas. She would be seeing a cricket clinic run in a slum by a local non-government organisation 'Magic Bus' which receives funding and technical support from the Australian Sports Commission.

Four Aboriginal cricketers from the Australian indigenous cricket development squad, captain Josh Lalor, from Victoria, Benjamin Abbatengelo (Victoria), Dylan Fuller (Northern Territory), and D'Arcy Short (Western Australia) will be touring with her.

Relations between the two countries have been strained in recent years by controversy over uranium sales and racist attacks on Indian students in Australia. Gillard last visited India as deputy prime minister in 2009.