Australia, India sign civil nuclear deal

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, speaks with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott during a welcoming ceremony at the presidential palace in New Delhi on Friday.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, speaks with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott during a welcoming ceremony at the presidential palace in New Delhi on Friday.

NEW DELHI : Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he will sign a long-awaited uranium nuclear deal with his Indian counterpart Friday, expressing hope for a “bright and golden” relationship between the two countries.

Abbott said he wanted first-rank relations between India and Australia on the last day of a visit that will culminate with the nuclear agreement, paving the way for uranium exports to the energy-hungry country.

He is set to sign the pact late Friday after his meeting with fellow right-wing leader Narendra Modi, who stormed to power in May on a pledge to open up Asia’s third largest economy to foreign investment.

“In a sign of the mutual trust and confidence that our two countries have in each other, Prime Minister Modi and I will today sign a nuclear cooperation agreement that will allow Australian uranium sales to India,” he told business leaders in New Delhi, sparking applause.

India and Australia kick-started negotiations on uranium sales in 2012 after Canberra lifted a long-time ban on exporting the valuable ore to Delhi to meet its ambitious nuclear energy program.

India is struggling to produce enough power to meet rising demand from its 1.2-billion strong population as its economy and vast middle-class expand.

Nearly 400 million Indians still have no access to electricity, according to the World Bank, and crippling power cuts are common.

The agreement will allow India to ramp up plans for more nuclear power stations, with only 20 small plants at present and a heavy dependency on coal.

Abbott said although two-way trade last year was only $15 billion the new deal, along with a massive coal mine approved in Australia for one of India’s biggest conglomerates, was a sign of future cooperation and potential.

“It’s bright and golden and it’s there for us to grasp,” Abbott said of their future ties.

Australia, the world’s third biggest uranium producer, had previously ruled out uranium exports to nuclear-armed India because it has not signed the global non-proliferation treaty.

 
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