Negotiations at arms length? Australia’s intention to lift the ban on uranium exports to India

November 2011 Author: Jehann Mendis

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On Tuesday, 15 November 2011, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard outlined an intention to lift the ban on uranium exports to India.

Australia boasts the world's largest reserves of uranium, with approximately 27 percent of the world's reasonably assured uranium resources. Unsurprisingly, Australia, as one of the world's highest uranium producers (behind Kazakhstan and Canada), currently exports to a variety of countries including China and Japan.

Historically, India (amongst other nations) has remained off the list of eligible export countries because India refuses to be signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT). In the past, the requirement for the purchasing nation to be a signatory of the NNPT was not negotiable. However, the current Australian Government has indicated an intention, in these particular circumstances, to remove the requirement for a commitment to the NNPT and allow India purchasing rights.  

Reportedly, this policy reversal is aimed at improving diplomatic relations between Australia and India and is an effort to ensure that Australian uranium industry remains competitive.

It is likely that Australia will only provide the uranium to India's growing nuclear power industry and in accordance with Australia’s policies, will require assurances from the Indian government to ensure that the uranium is only used for civilian purposes.

In the event that the new Labor Party platform is adopted and approved by the Australian Government, it is likely that a bilateral agreement will be entered into between Australia and India, to ensure that the appropriate safeguards are adopted.

Notably, the current uranium exports policy allows Australia to retain the right to be selective as to the countries with which it is prepared to conclude safeguard arrangements.