New Delhi: India and Australia on Thursday decided to launch negotiations for civil nuclear pact during the talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Australian counterpart Julia Gillard.

The two leaders also agreed to hold annual meetings at the summit level to launch a Ministerial-level Dialogue on Energy Security, start negotiations for an Agreement on Transfer of Sentenced Persons, apart from inking four pacts.

The two Prime Ministers held "substantive discussions on measures to give greater content" to bilateral relations, after which Singh said "relations between India and Australia are characterised by expanding trade and investment, defence cooperation, education and cultural linkages and people-to- people interaction".

"We are also developing wide-ranging cooperation in defence and security issues, including the fight against terrorism, in all of which we regard Australia as an important partner," he said in his statement to the media.

Announcing the decision to begin negotiations for an Agreement on Civil Nuclear Energy Cooperation, which will precede actual cooperation, Singh said the Australian Labour Party has articulated a new policy on uranium sales to India.

"This is recognition of India’s energy needs as well as of our record and credentials and I have expressed to Prime Minister Gillard our India’s appreciation of this development," he added.

Singh also said that during the talks they have agreed to hold annual meetings at the summit level, either bilaterally or during multilateral events.

The four MoUs inked in the presence of the two Prime Ministers included cooperation in the field of wool and woollen products, cooperation in student mobility and welfare and cooperation in civil space science, technology and education.

Welcoming the progress made since the relationship was raised to the level of a strategic partnership in 2009, Singh and Gillard agreed to provide high-level "political oversight" to this process through annual Prime Ministerial meetings.

On trade and economic front, they noted that trade between both countries had more than doubled in the past six years to over USD 20 billion and welcomed the progress towards a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) to facilitate greater trade and investment links.

"There is great potential to further strengthen India- Australia bilateral trade and investment relations which continue to show robust growth. Our bilateral trade in goods was USD 17.4 billion in 2011-12 while India’s investments in Australia are at almost USD 11 billion," Singh said.

"They renewed the commitment of both countries for achieving an equitable, comprehensive and high-quality agreement," a joint statement said.

They also noted the potential to further develop and diversify commercial relations and that this would be supported by the conclusion of the MoU on Cooperation and Mutual Administrative Assistance in Customs Matters which would enable effective enforcement of customs laws and facilitate legitimate trade.

Australia's supplies of energy and mineral resources to India have been rising steadily and it welcomed the interest of both private and public sector companies from India in the resources sector, the joint statement said.

Agreeing that India and Australia should collaborate more closely on the common challenge of managing scarce water resources, they announced a Water Technology Partnership under which Australia and India would share technologies to build capacity to better manage this vital natural resource.

Noting the ongoing work of the Joint Working Group on counter-terrorism, India and Australia recommitted to close collaboration against the threat of terrorism.

Committing to work together closely to fight organized crime, the two Prime Ministers noted these efforts would be supported by the MoU on narcotics to be concluded by both the countries.

They also announced the commencement of negotiations towards a MoU on the movement of persons which will promote dialogue on the regular movement of professional labour and combat irregular migration.

India and Australia, as Chair and Vice Chair respectively of the Indian Ocean Rim Association for Regional Cooperation, will work closely to strengthen the Association through concrete steps in the six priority areas of maritime security and piracy, fisheries management, disaster risk reduction, tourism and cultural exchanges, academic and S&T cooperation and trade and investment facilitation.

"Both the countries look forward to taking this collaboration within the Association to a deeper level during the 12th Council of Ministers meeting in Gurgaon on 2 November 2012," the joint statement said.

Singh also said he conveyed to Prime Minister Gillard India's country's appreciation of the steps being taken by her government to address the issues affecting Indians and Indian students in Australia, which have had a salutary effect.

"I have no doubt that our understandings, as reflected also in the agreements that have just been signed, herald a phase of more intense and structured cooperation between our two countries," Singh said.

Reaffirming the positive security and defence ties between both the countries, the two Prime Ministers committed to enhance maritime cooperation further, including through continued joint naval exercises.

The Prime Ministers also welcomed ongoing cooperation through other regional bodies such as the ASEAN Regional Forum and the Asia Europe Meeting and Gillard reaffirmed Australia’s support for India’s membership of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC).

As Australia prepares to chair the G-20 meeting in 2014, the Prime Ministers committed both the countries to continue to engage closely in that forum to deliver concrete outcomes that will promote strong, sustainable and balanced growth of the global economy.

The two leaders reaffirmed the importance of reform of the UN, including the Security Council, to better reflect contemporary realities. India also welcomed Australia's continued support for its bid as a permanent member in a reformed UN Security Council.

"India underlined Australia's continued contribution to international peace and security under the UN charter and, in this context, acknowledged Australia's candidature for a non- permanent seat in the UN Security Council for the 2013-2014 term," the statement said.

The two leaders also underlined the importance of achieving universal nuclear disarmament and of countering the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction with Gillard noting India's sound non-proliferation record and expressed Australia's recognition of the importance of India's engagement with the four multilateral export control regimes with the objective of full membership.

Both the Prime Ministers agreed to hold annual bilateral non-proliferation and disarmament discussions at the level of officials.

To give further impetus to expanding personal and cultural links, the Prime Ministers directed the officials to pursue an Audio-Visual Agreement which would facilitate greater investment in filmmaking in both the countries.

The Prime Ministers also agreed to the recommencement of Social Security Agreement negotiations, including consideration of totalisation provisions.

Singh also announced India would establish ICCR Chairs of Indian Studies in five Universities in Australia to promote academic and student exchanges.

On her part, Gillard announced Australia would provide additional funding of USD 1.5 million over three years for the Australia-India Institute and confirmed a grant to help establish a Nalanda University Chair in Environmental Studies commencing in 2013.


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