India and Australia today moved towards further cementing their strategic partnership as they agreed to begin negotiations here in March on a nuclear pact besides broadening trade and economic relations.
External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and his Australian counterpart Bob Carr, after 90-minute bilateral talks, agreed to hold the first round of negotiations on a civil nuclear cooperation agreement in March in Delhi.
"We shall be commencing negotiations on a Civil Nuclear Energy Cooperation Agreement in March 2013," Khurshid said. "India is a key part of Australia's future," Carr said announcing the first round of talks for the nuclear cooperation agreement would be held in Delhi in March.
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Khurshid said the External Affairs Ministries of both the countries would conduct the talks. The agreement would enable the export of uranium from Australia to India, Carr said. Australia has about 40 percent of the world's uranium reserves.
Khurshid said India would also host a meeting of the Joint Commission of Commerce Ministers, which would give impetus to trade relations between the two countries. The bilateral trade is at present 21 billion Australian dollars.
"Our trade negotiators have been engaged in broadening understanding towards a mutually beneficial Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA)," he said. During the parleys, it was decided that Defence Minister A K Antony would visit Australia sometime in March for further discussions on cooperation in defence and security sectors.
This would be the first ever visit by an Indian Defence Minister to Australia. On timeframe for concluding negotiations on nuclear pact, Khurshid said the sense of urgency and committment between the two countries on the issue was "very clear".
"When we speak on a matter of such high import, to actually put an artificial deadline and say we must complete it within this period would not be appropriate. Obviously, a sense of urgency and purpose would be there and hopefully we would move quite swiftly," he said.
"I think these are very important negotiations. Of course, we have done negotiations with other countries successfully on this. So, there is a backdrop available and there are models available," he said.
Khurshid underscored the significant contributions made by Australia in nuclear energy sector and non-proliferation. Australia had agreed to start negotiations on a civil nuclear deal with India during the October visit of Prime Minister Julia Gillard to New Delhi.
In December 2011, Gillard's Labour Party had overturned its long-standing ban on exporting uranium to India. The country did not sell uranium to India because it is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
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