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India, Australia bilateral naval exercise next month

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Warships during the AUSINDEX-15 maritime drill in the Bay of Bengal. An Indian Navy photo

NEW DELHI (PTI): India and Australia will hold their second bilateral naval exercise next month off the coast of Western Australia, the country's envoy said in New Delhi on Tuesday.

The first-ever such exercise, called AUSINDEX, was held in September, 2015 in the Bay of Bengal.

Australia's High Commissioner to India Harinder Sidhu, during an interaction with journalists, also emphasised that bilateral ties have seen a "steady upward trajectory" and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's recent visit to New Delhi has "injected a fresh momentum" in the relationship.

"We held our first bilateral maritime exercise in the Bay of Bengal and we will hold the second iteration off the coast of Western Australia next month," she said.

She further said, a full business delegation from Australia will visit India later this year to take forward bilateral economic ties.

"We have a very strong bilateral relationship and later this year a full business delegation will visit India to discuss with the Indian side, across various sectors. This is also to bring to fruition the ideas that were envisioned during Prime Minister Turnbull's visit to India," she said.

On the Civil Nuclear Agreement, Sidhu said commercial negotiations are likely to begin soon so that the sale of uranium to India can take place in the near future.

During Turnbull's visit last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Australian premier had welcomed the passage of the Civil Nuclear Transfers to India Act in a joint statement, and both leaders had anticipated that commercial exports of Australian uranium to India could begin soon.

The Indian Navy and Royal Australian Navy will hold their second joint maritime exercise off the coast of Western Australia as announced in the joint statement, she said.

Asked if China's growing influence in the region will affect Indo-Australian ties, she said, "China has grown tremendously economically and in the process has lifted people out of poverty in the country. That we must not lose sight of".

"And, a country with a growing economic weight tends to assert its strategic weight too. But having said that, the actions (by the country) have to be responsible and in line with international norms," Sidhu said.

On a question to Australia's bid for observer status at this year's Malabar exercise and on the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), she said, "both are works in progress".

"CECA is complicated stuff but we are tabulating all the issues," she said.

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