Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he will sign a long-awaited uranium nuclear deal with his Indian counterpart Friday, expressing hope for a "bright and golden" relationship between the two countries.
Abbott said he wanted first-rank relations between India and Australia on the last day of a visit that will culminate with the nuclear agreement, paving the way for uranium exports to the energy-hungry country.
He is set to sign the pact late Friday after his meeting with fellow right-wing leader Narendra Modi, who stormed to power in May on a pledge to open up Asia's third largest economy to foreign investment.
"In a sign of the mutual trust and confidence that our two countries have in each other, Prime Minister Modi and I will today sign a nuclear cooperation agreement that will allow Australian uranium sales to India," he told business leaders in New Delhi, sparking applause.
India and Australia kick-started negotiations on uranium sales in 2012 after Canberra lifted a long-time ban on exporting the valuable ore to Delhi to meet its ambitious nuclear energy programme.
India is struggling to produce enough power to meet rising demand from its 1.2-billion strong population as its economy and vast middle-class expand.
Nearly 400 million Indians still have no access to electricity, according to the World Bank, and crippling power cuts are common.
The agreement will allow India to ramp up plans for more nuclear power stations, with only 20 small plants at present and a heavy dependency on coal.
Abbott said although two-way trade last year was only $15 billion the new deal, along with a massive coal mine approved in Australia for one of India's biggest conglomerates, was a sign of future cooperation and potential.
"It's bright and golden and it's there for us to grasp," Abbott said of their future ties.
Writing in The Hindu newspaper on Friday, Modi said his visit "reflects Australia's desire for India to be in the first rank of Australia's relations."
- Trust each other -
Australia, the world's third biggest uranium producer, had previously ruled out uranium exports to nuclear-armed India because it has not signed the global non-proliferation treaty.
Both India and its neighbouring rival Pakistan are nuclear-armed, and along with Israel and North Korea are the only countries not signed up to the non-proliferation treaty to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.
Abbott reiterated Friday that his government has now received the necessary commitments from New Delhi to only use the ore for its civilian nuclear programme.
He said India and Australia both abided by the fundamental "ethical principle" to "play by the rules".
"This is why we can work together so easily and why we're ready to trust each other on issues like uranium safeguards."
Australia's decision to overturn its ban followed a landmark US agreement in 2008 to support India's civilian nuclear programme.
Asked on Thursday about India's management of its nuclear power industry and safety standards, Abbott said it was "not our job to tell India how to conduct its internal affairs".
"Our job is to try to ensure we act in accordance with our own standards of decency and that's what we intend to do," he said.
During his meeting with Modi, Abbott will also hand back two centuries-old statues allegedly looted from temples in India, ending a long-running battle over the pieces.
Modi also Friday met senior ministers in the capital, visited a hospital trauma centre and announced $20 million in funding for further India-Australian scientific projects.
On Thursday, he announced a scheme to boost the numbers of Australians studying in India and met Indian cricketing great Sachin Tendulkar ahead of Australia's hosting of the World Cup next year.