SYDNEY - Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott will visit India next week, his first trip to the country since taking office a year ago, as speculation is high that the two countries will sign an agreement allowing the export of uranium to the nuclear-armed South Asian nation.
In a statement released yesterday, Mr Abbott said his two-day trip starting Sept 4 would involve visits to New Delhi and Mumbai to "strengthen the strategic partnership between our two countries".
He made no mention of uranium, and his office said it was unable to confirm anything related to the sale of the resource despite reports that Mr Abbott will sign a deal when in India.
The Australian leader said only that there was "potential for further cooperation in resources, science, technology and education" with Australia's fifth-largest export market, worth A$11.4 billion (S$13.3 billion).
"My visit will be an opportunity to engage with Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi early in the term of his government to increase bilateral cooperation to advance our mutual interests," he said.
Australia holds about a third of the world's recoverable uranium resources, and exports nearly 7,000 tonnes a year.
The country's previous Labor government moved to lift the ban on selling uranium to India in 2011 in a bid to strengthen ties with the fast-growing economy, Agence France-Presse reported.
At the time, Canberra stressed that any exports would have to be accompanied by guarantees that uranium would be used only for power facilities and not military purposes.
Reports this month suggested officials from both countries have now worked out appropriate safeguards, with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation saying a deal would be signed during the visit.
"This is a huge statement of trust (between the two countries)," said political editor Aditi Phadnis Mehta of the leading Indian daily The Business Standard.
"The uranium deal with Australia is not just about supplying nuclear fuel, it's about opening the door to a much more integrated defence and strategic partnership," she said, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
After India, Mr Abbott will travel to Malaysia on Sept 6 for talks with Prime Minister Najib Razak. Two-way trade with Malaysia last year was worth almost A$18 billion.
This article was first published on August 30, 2014.
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