Australia

Australia and India to push for free trade pact

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is welcomed as he arrives to address lawmakers in Canberra Image copyright EPA
Image caption Narendra Modi (centre) was met by a standing ovation by Australian lawmakers

Australia and India have pledged to push for a major free trade deal, as Indian PM Narendra Modi made a rare speech to lawmakers in Canberra.

Australian PM Tony Abbott admitted that bilateral ties - worth A$15bn (£8bn; $13bn) in 2013 - were "underdeveloped", hoping for the new deal in 2015.

Mr Modi said India "will be the answer to your search for new economic opportunities".

This comes a day after Australia sealed a landmark trade deal with China.

Trade between Australia and China was estimated to be more than A$150bn last year.

'No other example'

After greeting the Indian prime minister on Tuesday, Mr Abbott said: "We want to go further and that's why the next priority for Australia is a comprehensive economic partnership agreement with India."

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Modi (left) is the first Indian leader to visit Australia in 28 years
Image copyright AFP
Image caption A special train has carried Mr Modi's supporters to Sydney for the reception

"This is a moment in time. This is the time to get this done."

In a brief reference he made in a press conference between the two leaders, Mr Modi said the two countries were seeking "early closure" on a nuclear energy agreement "that will give Australia a chance to participate in one of the most secure and safe nuclear energy programmes in the world".

The Indian prime minister also said "India's development, demographic and demand provide a unique long-term opportunity for Australia and all in the framework of democracy.

"There is no other example of this nature in the world," he added, in what some Australian media outlets say was a veiled reference to China, a historic rival of India.

India - alongside China - is one of the world's fastest growing economies.

In a separate development, Indian mining company Adani won support from the Indian government and the Australian state of Queensland on Monday to help build a $7bn coal mine, rail and port project.

Adani signed a memorandum of understanding for a $1bn loan from a state-run Indian bank for the mine in Queensland, which it aims to build by the end of 2017.

Australia has approved the coal project, despite concern over its potential environmental impact.

Uranium imports

Mr Modi is the first Indian leader to visit Australia in 28 years, and he was met by a standing ovation by Australian lawmakers.

In a wide-ranging speech, he also stressed the importance of Australian-Indian ties "for advancing regional peace and stability and combating terrorism".

On Monday, Mr Modi received a rapturous reception in Sydney, where he addressed a large Indian community at the city's Olympic park.

Mr Modi arrived in Australia last week to participate in the G20 summit in Brisbane.

After the summit, Mr Modi told Australian business leaders they could expect improved investment opportunities in India.

A special train called Modi Express, carrying more than 200 passengers from Melbourne to Sydney, was flagged off on Sunday by an Australian minister.

"It just shows the strength of India-Australia relationship even if India beats us in Cricket World Cup 2015. His visit is very significant," Victorian Multicultural Minister Matthew Guy said.

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