Australia’s ties with India are set to benefit from the ruling Labor Party’s decision to lift a ban on exporting uranium to the growing Asian power, Defence Minister Stephen Smith said Monday.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard had pushed for the scrapping of the ban on exports to the nuclear power, which is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to help meet its energy needs.
“I’m very pleased with the decision,” Smith told Sky News, adding that Australia’s policy had been an “irritant” in the relationship.
“This will be a deeply significant decision so far as our strategic relationship with India is concerned,” Smith said.
Australia’s governing Labor party voted Sunday to lift the long-standing ban on exporting uranium to India after a passionate debate about nuclear weapons and reactor safety following Japan’s quake crisis.
At the conference, Gillard said it was not rational or intellectually defensible to sell uranium to powers such as China but not India, “the world’s largest democracy”.
Canberra ships the nuclear fuel to China, Japan, Taiwan and the United States but has so far refused to sell to India because it is not a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty.
Any sales to India will instead be regulated by strict safeguards, which Canberra and New Delhi are expected to enter discussions on in 2012, Trade Minister Craig Emerson said.
“There’s no doubt that India wants to use uranium for peaceful purposes,” Emerson told ABC Radio.
“It’s entered into agreements with other countries that confirm this.”
Although Australia does not use nuclear power, it is the world’s third-ranking uranium producer behind Kazakhstan and Canada and holds an estimated 23 percent of the world’s reserves.