MARIUS BENSON: The Prime Minister Julia Gillard has had a short visit to Afghanistan. She'll be opening talks in India today which are expected to concentrate on trade issues, including the prospective sale of Australian uranium to India's nuclear industry. The Labor Party last year dropped its long-standing opposition to sales to India, which is not party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. To look at that and other Government issues this morning I'm joined by the Trade Minister Craig Emerson. Craig Emerson, good morning.
CRAIG EMERSON: And hello to you, Marius.
BENSON: Now, will the nuclear issue be at the top of the agenda for the Prime Minister when she meets Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Delhi today?
EMERSON: There are broader trade issues, Marius. And we are in the early stages of negotiations for a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with India. Realistically, that will take time. But we also have a CEO's forum where top CEOs from Australia have been meeting with counterparts from India, and they are identifying those impediments to trade and investment that they think could be removed earlier rather than later.
BENSON: So is there some sort of explosion in bilateral trade anticipated?
EMERSON: I wouldn't think so in terms of immediacy. But this is a very big country; India's now the third-largest economy on earth. In the first decade of this century it grew an astonishing 7 per cent per annum. It has a population of around 1.2 billion people. So this is an important trade and investment partner. And of course, as is well known, there's a large number of Indian students studying in Australia. So we can deepen and enrich this relationship as part of our push on Australia in the Asian Century.
BENSON: Specifically on uranium: how soon might Australia be selling uranium to India?
EMERSON: It will take time. The negotiations on the protocol are at an early stage. This had been a difficulty in the relationship between Australia and India. And, indeed, one important dimension of this has been the very announcement effect of allowing the possibility of uranium sales to India, subject to the negotiation of a protocol. Those negotiations will take time, but India is pleased that we have in fact lifted that ban through the ALP National Conference and we're now moving into the negotiations. They've started, but it will take time.
BENSON: Can you say something a little more specific than that? When you say "time", are you talking months, years, decades?
EMERSON: I've learned, Marius, in all trade negotiations, not to put specific timelines on negotiations because that can be self-defeating. But I don't think it's something that's going to happen in the next couple of months. It needs to…
BENSON: In the term of this government?
EMERSON: Well I'm not going to put a deadline on it. It's just not constructive. I know that your job as a journalist is to seek a deadline - that makes it more newsworthy - but it's just not in the interests of either country to lay down artificial deadlines. We'll work through this methodically. We'll work through it carefully. And as I've indicated, one of the big benefits of the change in policy is the announcement itself: and that is, India is pleased that we are not persisting with the position of banning uranium sales to India under all circumstances. We will allow them subject to the negotiation of a mutually satisfactory protocol.
BENSON: Pakistan was not happy. Has Pakistan made any protests?
EMERSON: Not to my knowledge, but I'm not the Minister for Foreign Affairs on a regular basis. I act on that basis quite often, but I'm not aware of any such protests. It doesn't mean that Pakistan has expressed no view, but none has come to my attention.
BENSON: Tony Abbott is in Indonesia today. He's holding talks with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. One of the issues is live cattle exports. He says the cancellation of those exports was a low point in Indonesian relations for Australia. Is he right?
EMERSON: Trade Minister Gita Wirjawan was in Australia on Friday with me for trade talks. When asked about the whole relationship, in the Blue Room of Parliament House, he said the relationship has never been in better shape. Of course that didn't get reported because it was too much good news at one particular point in time I think. But we are looking to build this trade. And Gita Wirjawan as Trade Minister was asked is there going to be further reduction in Australian exports of live cattle to Indonesia, and he forecast that there would be increases because they want to see an increase in per capita beef consumption from two kilograms a year to 20 kilograms a year. That would be a 10-fold increase in consumption and something like a $34 billion industry. What we're working on with Indonesia is capacity-building to provide advice and also to invest in Indonesia, which is something that they value highly. So we can transfer some of our knowhow to the Indonesians and at the same time, to coin the phrase, beef up the trade.
BENSON: Craig Emerson, thank you very much.
EMERSON: Thanks, Marius.
- Minister Emerson's Office: (02) 6277 7420
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555