Nuclear deal in mind, Tony Abbott says India is a land of opportunities

Australian Prime Minister Tony AbbottAustralian Prime Minister Tony Abbott arrived in India today on a three-day visit, during which he is likely to sign a crucial deal for export of uranium, giving New Delhi access to the world's largest known uranium reserves.

The Australian leader landed in Mumbai on the first leg of his three-day visit to India, during which he is expected to sign a long-awaited deal to sell uranium to the energy-starved nation.

"The purpose of this trip, as far as I'm concerned, is to acknowledge the importance of India in the wider world, acknowledge the importance of India to Australia's future," he told business leaders in Mumbai.

"There is an abundance of opportunities here in India. I am determined to make the most of them."

The Australian PM will meet his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj, President Pranab Mukherjee and vice president Hamid Ansari on Friday and senior ministers during his visit, which also aims at boosting trade.

Abbott has made Canberra's ties with New Delhi a priority for his conservative government, and has personally told Australian negotiators over the past few months to expedite nuclear talks with India, officials said.

''I hope to sign a nuclear co-operation agreement that will allow the sale of uranium by Australia to India,'' Abbott told the Australian Parliament yesterday while detailing plans for his first visit since the 1970s, when he had backpacked across the Himalayas as a student.

While India and Australia have been negotiating a civil nuclear cooperation agreement since 2011, internal political tussles within the then ruling Australian Labour Party combined with the party's traditional opposition to nuclear trade with nations outside the ambit of the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) had stalled progress.

Abbott's assumption of power changed that, and almost immediately assured India that he would expedite talks.

Abbott is the first foreign head of government on an official visit to India since Modi became the prime minister in May at a swearing-in that was attended by leaders of south Asian nations and Mauritius.

India, which is heavily dependent on coal for generating power, has 20-odd small nuclear plants and is planning to set up more. A deal with Australia would potentially ensure fuel supplies to those plants.

Australia's decision to overturn its ban on sales to India is a big respite for India, which is struggling to produce enough power to meet rising demand