The next step in cementing India Australia ties

A great opportunity was missed last month during the CeBIT Technology Fair, which is the largest technology exhibition in the Southern Hemisphere. An invitation was sent to Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh to inaugurate the exhibition by the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard. However, the Indian government instead sent ICT Minister Sachin Pilot to the event. Indian Prime Minister’s acceptance of the invitation could have broken the ice and would have provided a much needed boost to the bilateral ties which have steadfastly refused to peak. It was a good enough reason for the Indian Prime Minister to visit Australia after a gap of over 20 years. Considering that Indian Prime Minister did visit Germany to inaugurate the same event held, when it was held there, shows how India sees the relationship with both countries.

Australia-IndiaDomestic factors might have prevented Dr Manmohan Singh to postpone his visit to Australia but it clearly demonstrates that India wants a visible and a concrete dividend for an Indian Prime Minister to visit Australia. And that game changer dividend is the Bilateral Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement between India and Australia.

Clearly the passing of the resolution to sell Uranium inside the Labor party’s 46th national conference is not enough. There are many hurdles before Australia starts exporting Uranium to India. The first being the initiation of the dialogue between the nuclear safety authorities of India and Australia and their technical supports which will lead to an agreement on Cooperation on nuclear safety regulation. Subsequent to this there will be another set of agreements covering commercial contracts, confidentiality of information exchanged, exchange of technical information and cooperation in the regulation of nuclear safety and radiation protection and management of radioactive waste.

When this is done, Australian Parliament will then need to endorse the agreement just like 123 Agreement signed between the United States of America. This will be another monumental task if there is a split verdict in the next Federal Elections. India’s self-imposed moratorium on no-first use of nuclear weapons may not be enough to satisfy Australian parliamentarians and they may apply India’s signing the Non Proliferation Treaty as a precondition for this act to be passed and this may become a non starter. The attitude of Greens towards Uranium mining and their fixation on defensive environmental policy is bound to create hurdles.

As of now there is no news that the formal negotiations have started.

Civilian nuclear cooperation constitutes one of the cornerstones of the public diplomacy initiatives since the past decade and this includes discussions with US, France, Canada, Japan, South Korea and Australia.

Time is running out and both India and Australia need to relook at their converging common interests. A visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Australia will open the floodgates for a booming economic and political cooperation. The Indian side has clearly indicated that the Bilateral Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement is the key to this development.

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