New Delhi, Dec. 4: The new Australian government is “committed to selling uranium to India”, according to the head of a state government who is also a colleague of Prime Minister Tony Abbott in the ruling Liberal Party.
Barry O’Farrell, the Premier of New South Wales that is home to large deposits of uranium, said he saw Prime Minister Abbott as “someone who is determined to put in place the original policy” of his party favouring sale of the mineral.
Australia has about a quarter of the world’s uranium reserves, something India is keen to tap to run its nuclear power plants.
Abbott took charge after his Liberal Party won elections in September this year. Farrell said uranium sales were part of the policy of the Liberal Party before successive Labour Party governments modified the position in the second half of the past decade.
Australia has about a quarter of the world’s uranium reserves. Its trade with India is valued at $18 billion, most of it in minerals. But New South Wales accounts for only a tenth of that, a share Farrell is looking to boost.
Australia has had long negotiations with India on selling uranium. The previous Labour government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard had agreed in principle to the plan but stopped short of offering any legal commitment.
The Abbott government is seeking closer nuclear co-operation amid expectations among officials in New Delhi that Canberra would support India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the 45-nation group that regulates nuclear trade.
Over the next two decades, India wants to expand nuclear power to 25 per cent of its total energy sources, and sustained uranium supplies are a key to the strategy.
The comments of O’Farrell, who is in India to promote trade and investment opportunities in his state, assume significance because New South Wales recently overturned a decades-old ban on uranium exploration and mining. The change has fuelled hopes that the state, whose capital is Sydney, may eventually become one of the main suppliers to India.
Australia’s deputy high commissioner Bernard Philip, speaking at the same business event as O’Farrell, said Canberra was keen on free-trade agreements with “key Asian countries including South Korea, China and India”. “India is a priority,” he said.
India and Australia have been negotiating a comprehensive economic co-operation agreement since 2011 when then trade minister Craig Emerson and commerce minister Anand Sharma began the talks.
But a headway has eluded the two sides. Australia has demanded greater concessions on export of farm products and financial services, while India has been seeking greater flexibility in movement of skilled professionals.
On Monday, O’Farrell said his government was working on collaborations with India in “agriculture, tourism, infrastructure, mining, coal technology and IT”.
India has invested about $10 billion in Australia, much of it in mining. Sterlite Industries and Aditya Birla Group are among the firms that have bought mines there.