Nuclear pact with India may be concluded by year-end: Julie Bishop

Amiti Sen Canberra | Updated on January 24, 2018 Published on May 29, 2015

Julie Bishop, Australian Foreign Affairs Minister

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop is betting high on India, both on the economic and political front. In an interview to BusinessLine, the Minister spoke about a wide- range of issues affecting both countries, such as the proposed comprehensive economic cooperation agreement (CECA), uranium trade and defence cooperation. Edited excerpts:

With so may unresolved issues, isn’t hoping for a year-end conclusion of the CECA negotiations too ambitious?

No. I believe, we should be ambitious for such a high-quality CECA agreement.

We don’t want to fail in our efforts because we were not ambitious enough. We have concluded similar agreements with China, Japan and Korea (in 18 months). At that time, people said we were ambitious. I am aware that there is political will on both sides, and we will overcome all challenges if there are any.

Is Australia’s renewed focus on India partly due to China slowing down?

We were always focused on India, but India has shown interest now. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Australia was a Prime Ministerial level visit in over decades. We have so much common interest where we can work together. His visit has reinvigorated the whole relationship.

How do you see the cooperation between India and Australia in defence panning out?

A joint defence security exercise is about to be taken up, and I think that brings us to a new level of cooperation. The exercise is a bit also on technology exchanges and personnel exchanges and we hope the strategic framework provides us to engage more closely on the defence security side of things. We continue to cooperate on Indian Ocean RIM matters. Our PMs have provided a very good foundation for deepening our relationship.

Is there a possibility that China may object?

If China objects to Australia carrying out a joint exercise with India, we could invite them to be part of the joint exercise with us (a separate one). China has, in fact, taken part in joint maritime exercises with Australia and the US.

Why is the nuclear agreement for supply of uranium to India taking so long to materialise?

The government is determined to conclude this agreement as soon as possible.

It is currently going through the joint standing committee on treaties, which is part of our Parliamentary process. There have been hearings in February and May, and I expect that once the committee’s report is considered by the government, we can conclude it possibly by end of this year.

Indian businesses complain of high non-tariff barriers in Australia. Can the CECA address that?

There are always challenges for FTAs in various sectors of the economy, but we have overcome those barriers with Japan and China. It requires give-and-take on both sides, but the benefits are enormous for goods as well as services and investments. There are many more side benefits of FTAs. One of these is in the area of visas.

Do you have plans of cooperating in the energy sector, since India has huge energy needs?

I think the CECA also gives an opportunity to enhance energy supply in terms of not just supplying coal but also LNG and uranium. We are willing to be India's partner of choice in providing support for its energy needs.

India has been asking for easier movement of professionals and students. Any progress?

There is a list of things that India wants. With our new Colombo plan, there will be greater academic exchange with India, which would include more student exchange programmes.

Published on May 29, 2015
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