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Australian, Indian leaders target free trade pact, economic boost

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Australia and India will push for a free trade pact between their countries, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Tuesday, during a rare state visit to Canberra by an Indian leader.

[CANBERRA] Australia and India will push for a free trade pact between their countries, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Tuesday, during a rare state visit to Canberra by an Indian leader.

Australia on Monday finalised a landmark free trade deal with China more than ten years in the making, significantly expanding ties between the world's second largest economy and one of Washington's closest allies in Asia.

Trade between Australia and India stands at around US$15 billion a year, or just a tenth of that between Australia and China. "We want to go further and that's why the next priority for Australia is a comprehensive economic partnership agreement with India," Abbott said. "If I may say so, this is a moment in time. This is the time to get this done." Modi, who will address the Australian parliament later on Tuesday, emphasised the need to secure greater access for Indian investors. "We have agreed to speed up negotiations on the comprehensive economic partnership agreement," Modi said. "I also asked for easier access for Indian business to the Australian market and quicker investment approvals." "We also agreed on seeking early closure on the civil nuclear agreement, which will give Australia a chance to participate in one of the most secure and safe nuclear energy programme in the world." Australia sealed a civil nuclear deal to sell uranium to India in September and also offered to increase supplies of conventional fuel to help India overcome chronic shortages.

Talks towards the Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement began about two years ago after Australia lifted a long-standing ban on selling uranium to energy-starved India.

Modi last night addressed thousands of expatriate Indians at a packed 21,000 seat arena in Sydney that just last week hosted the rolling stones, underscoring the rock star status he enjoys among some Indians at home and abroad.

Modi, who arrived on Friday for the G20 economic summit in Australia, where about 300,000 Indians live, urged Indians to boost investment at home.

Australia is emerging as a key source of thermal coal for India's growing number of electricity users.

Indian trade and infrastructure conglomerate Adani Enterprises has signed a pact for a loan of up to US$1 billion from the State Bank of India for a US$6 billion Australian coal mine, rail and port project.

REUTERS