‘Australia wants to be India’s energy partner of choice’

Our Bureau Chennai | Updated on April 15, 2015

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop in Chennai onWednesday BIJOY GHOSH

Framework agreement expected this year

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said on Wednesday that her country would like to be India’s “energy partner of choice”.

Speaking to journalists here, Bishop said Australia is in the process of ratifying the civil nuclear agreement signed with India, and a framework agreement is expected to be reached this year after which uranium supply to India could start.

“The Australian government and the Indian government are concluding the civil nuclear supply agreement. There’s also a parliamentary process to be concluded in Australia, which is a routine process. After that, uranium suppliers and buyers can negotiate,” she said.

India and Australia signed a preliminary civilian nuclear pact in September last year during Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s visit to New Delhi. Australia has about 40 per cent of the world’s uranium.

She reiterated Australia’s position that it backs India’s entry into the nuclear suppliers group — a multilateral group which regulates trade in civil nuclear technology.

Bishop, who arrived in New Delhi on Sunday for a four-day visit, met Tamil Nadu Chief Minister O Panneerselvam and other government and business leaders in Chennai on Wednesday as part of her government’s efforts “to deepen trade and economic ties” with Tamil Nadu and other southern states.

She added that both countries are also negotiating a comprehensive economic partnership agreement, which is expected to be concluded this year. “Our trade and investment minister (Andrew Robb) was in India in January and he’s coming again next week… Our government is determined to enter into more free trade deals with likeminded countries, and I am pleased with the progress of the talks,” Bishop said. India-Australia trade, which stands at $15 billion now, is expected to reach $40 in four years. But it’s still small compared with Australia’s $160-billion two-way trade with China. “Clearly there’s lots of opportunity (for India and Australia) to expand trade ties. And I recognise that India has significant energy needs and Australia wants to be India’s energy partner of Choice.”

Maritime cooperation

The minister further emphasised on maritime cooperation between the two countries. “We are very keen to deepen our cooperation with India, particularly on maritime cooperation. There’s been significant convergence of interest between Australia and India on maritime security, countering terrorism and trans-national crimes. Our two navies are planning to undertake the first bilateral maritime exercise later this year.”

Asked about the Japan-China tensions in the South China Sea, she said tensions should be deescalated. “Neither China nor Japan should escalate tensions. Both parties should solve their differences through negotiations., But we believe that international law should apply (in the territories in dispute)”.

India had earlier raised concerns over China’s territorial claims in South China Sea. While visiting Japan in September last year, Prime Minister Modi warned against countries with “expansionist policies”, in an indirect reference to China’s claims over the South China Sea.

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Published on April 15, 2015
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