NEW DELHI: Australia’s prime minister is due to sign a deal Friday allowing nuclear fuel exports to energy-hungry India, as he meets the country’s new premier on a visit to boost economic ties.
Tony Abbott, who flew into New Delhi late on Thursday after meeting business leaders in Mumbai, said the long-awaited agreement was a sign of “mutual trust” after a long-standing ban on uranium sales to India was lifted in 2012.
The world’s third biggest uranium producer, Australia had previously ruled out such exports to nuclear-armed India because it has not signed the global non-proliferation treaty.
But Abbott said on Thursday that he was assured of India’s commitment to peaceful power generation.
“India has an absolutely impeccable non-proliferation record and India has been a model international citizen,” he told reporters in Mumbai.
“India threatens no one, India is the friend to many, India is the world’s emerging democratic superpower. This is an important sign of the mutual trust that exists between Australia and India.”
The agreement will potentially ramp up India’s plans for more nuclear power stations, with only 20 small plants at present and a heavy dependency on coal.
India is struggling to produce enough power to meet the rising demands of its 1.2-billion-strong population as its economy and vast middle-class expand.
Nearly 400 million Indians are still without access to electricity, according to the World Bank, and crippling power cuts are common.
Asked about India’s management of its nuclear power industry and safety standards, Abbott said it was “not our job to tell India how to conduct its internal affairs”.
“Our job is to try to ensure we act in accordance with our own standards of decency and that’s what we intend to do,” he said, adding that India’s “standards are improving all the time”.
The Australian premier told business leaders in Mumbai that the purpose of his trip was “to acknowledge the importance of India in the wider world, acknowledge the importance of India to Australia’s future”.
He announced a scheme to boost the numbers of Australians studying in India and met Indian cricketing great Sachin Tendulkar ahead of Australia’s hosting of the World Cup next year.
In the capital, he is due to attend a ceremonial reception on Friday morning before meeting senior government members, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who swept to power in May pledging to open up Asia’s third-largest economy to foreign investment.