Pranab Mukherjee leaves for Australia Saturday, uranium supply ruled out (Lead)

June 20th, 2008 - 9:22 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi/Sydney, June 20 (IANS)External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee leaves for Australia Saturday on a two-day visit during which he will discuss greater co-operation in trade and energy. But both sides have ruled out the possibility of any deal on Australian uranium for Indian nuclear reactors. He will be hold talks with his Australian counterpart, Stephen Smith, under the aegis of the second foreign minister’s framework dialogue. The previous dialogue was held in 2005 in New Delhi.

External affairs ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna said that there had been considerable expansion in bilateral ties, especially in the areas of trade, science and technology, information technology, energy, education, agro-industries and tourism.

“Our economic engagement is also substantially based on resources sector that is expected to grow further as we work towards faster economic growth. Australia is already an important supplier of coking coal,” he said.

Sarna said that both countries are also increasingly engaged in oil and gas sector. “We also expect to source LNG in near future,” he said.

He added that the trade was growing at 30 percent annually and had reached 10.75 Australian dollars last year.

Interestingly, Sarna said the Australia was one of the few countries with which India had a deficit in the services sector. “There are 13 development centres in Information technology (by Indian companies) employing 1300 Australians,” he said.

Besides, education is another area for cooperation, with Indian students now increasingly choosing Australia for their cheap, but quality educational courses. “The numbers of Indian students are increasing. There were 63,000 Indian students last year, compared to 37,000 previous year,” he said, adding that the large Indian community present in Australia was also making useful contribution.

Meanwhile, Australia is expected to raise the idea of a new Asia-Pacific community, asserting that India should be a member of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). “India should become a member of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) group when the membership moratorium ends in 2010,” Stephen Smith said at a speech on “India: A new relationship for a new country” in Perth.

Smith added that Australia was “determined to now seize upon what we see as an historic opportunity to take our relationship with India to a new economic and strategic level.”

But, he reasserted that the ruling Labour government will not agree to supply uranium to India. “The Australian government’s policy to not supply uranium to countries that haven’t ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is long standing and well known. The important point to note, however, is that Australia’s relationship with India goes far beyond this single issue,” said Smith.

Mukherjee said he accepted there was little chance of a uranium deal with Australia.

“They have stated their position and this is the stated position of the incumbent party and ruling party,” he told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio in an interview before his visit.

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