Uranium trade spearheads development of India partnership

By Michael Angwin, CEO

The Prime Minister’s visit to India this week has demonstrated how clearly and strongly the Australian Government regards uranium exports to India as a national interest imperative for Australia.

In that, the Government is strongly supported by the Opposition.

In her speech to the Indian Business Chambers Lunch on 17 October, Ms Gillard drew attention to the ‘historic joint statement’ issued by her predecessor and India’s Prime Minister Singh in 2009, the agreement to upgrade relations between our two countries to the level of a Strategic Partnership.

Prime Minister Gillard went on to say that: ‘...another barrier has been removed: Australia has opened the door for uranium sales to India...(nuclear co-operation) discussions demonstrate in the most practical way that the Strategic Partnership between India and Australia is founded on enduring shared interests.’

This is the Government’s strongest expression yet of the national interest in uranium exports to India. 

Mr Ian Macfarlane, Federal Opposition resources shadow minister, has endorsed the export of uranium to India.

Mr Lindsay Fox, Australian Leader of the Australia/India CEO Forum said in India this week that by agreeing to exports, Australia ‘...placed ourselves in a better position to do business with them.’

The value of Australia’s agreement to uranium exports goes well beyond the value of the exports themselves. 

It is the key to a broader trade and diplomatic relationship in Australia’s national interest.

Prime Minister Singh emphasised that India saw the agreement to allow exports as crucial to the development of India’s relationship with Australia as India expands its nuclear energy industry.

Australia has two tasks now: negotiate an agreement for the peaceful use of our uranium in India; and ensure that our country has the capacity to fulfil the promise of exports that such an agreement implies.

As the Prime Minister said this week, Australia is good at negotiating peaceful use agreements.

Yet some domestic policies constrain Australia’s capacity to meet the demand for uranium those peaceful use agreements create.

Australia has a patchwork domestic uranium policy – made so mainly by the policies of State political parties - that is poorly aligned with the national interest.

Australia could have a treaty in two years with India and no story to tell about when uranium will be available for export to India.

The Australian Government’s initiative with India should be the platform for the more rapid reform of domestic uranium policy to align it with the national interest so powerfully demonstrated in India this week.

This requires the removal of remaining bans on uranium in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria and a bipartisan position on uranium in Western Australia.