The negotiations between India and Australia on civil nuclear cooperation have made “good progress,” Australian High Commissioner to India Patrick Suckling told The Hindu here on Thursday.
The fourth round of talks was held in Canberra from February 10 to 12. “The negotiations went very well. There is a good spirit in the negotiations. We are looking at having another [round of talks] shortly. We are making a significant progress... I’m very optimistic,” he said in an exclusive interview.
Mr. Suckling pointed out that the Liberal Party was in power in 2007, when Australia agreed to sell Uranium to India. Hence, the Australian government wanted it done “as quickly as possible.”
Asked whether the insistence on ‘IAEA plus safeguards’ was a stumbling block, he said this was not the case.
But there were hurdles. “Currently, there are some points of differences we are working through... India has its template. We have our template. We are working out how we can reconcile those two... I don’t think there is any show-stopper,” he said.
Mr. Suckling said the ambitious target to more than double the volume of trade between the two countries to Australian $40 billion by 2015 was achievable. “Our sense is that trade relationship is very strong. We think we will get there... Volumes of coal are increasing... There is genuine two-way trade and investment,” he said.
India is Australia’s ninth-largest trading partner, with two-way trade valued at $16.6 billion during 2013. India is Australia’s fourth largest export market ($11.4 billion in 2013). The total Indian investment in Australia had risen to $9.97 billion at the end of 2013.
The inaugural cybersecurity dialogue, planned for the first half of 2014, is being pushed back because of the Lok Sabha polls.
The Energy Dialogue is going ahead as scheduled. Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia will travel to Australia this month to take the process forward. But the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement negotiations will have to wait for a new government in New Delhi. There have been five rounds of talks so far, and India and Australia are on the same page on most tenuous issues. “India has agreed to chair with us a forum on energy in the G-20 this year [when it is held in Australia],” he said.
Mr. Suckling was in Chennai to strengthen bilateral business links. “Tamil Nadu is one of India’s largest and most industrialised State economies,” he noted. During the visit, Mr. Suckling also met representatives of the Organisation for Eelam Refugee Rehabilitation to discuss the ongoing cooperation on communications activities aimed at discouraging Sri Lankan Tamils from paying people-smugglers for a long and dangerous sea voyage to Australia.