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PM visits India to boost ties


Prime Minister Julia Gillard will seek to improve Australia's ties with India during a three-day visit in which trade links - including possible future uranium sales - will figure strongly.

Ms Gillard is scheduled to arrive in New Delhi on Monday for what is being billed as her major bilateral international trip for the year.

She will be working hard to get the relationship on track after a troubled few years that included racist attacks on Indian students in Melbourne, which unleashed a firestorm of anti-Australian sentiment in the South Asian nation.

On Tuesday she is to visit two of Delhi's slum areas, home to some of the world's poorest people.

Ms Gillard will drop in on an Australia-funded cricket clinic with four Aboriginal players and may be tempted into showcasing her skills for the locals - and the cameras.

She'll also meet scientists at a genetic engineering centre and take part in a youth dialogue forum. Later she'll attend the official opening of Oz Fest, the largest Australian cultural festival ever staged in India.

On Wednesday it will be down to business as Ms Gillard meets Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, President Pranab Mukherjee and other senior government figures for talks on region security issues, trade and investment.

India is Australia's fourth-largest export market, with total two-way trade valued at more than $20 billion.

But there is a view on both sides that the trade relationship is still underdone - particularly given India's growing hunger for the kind of natural resources Australia has in abundance.

The leaders are expected to announce minor progress towards uranium sales.

Ms Gillard last year successfully pushed to overturn Labor's ban on uranium exports to India, imposed because it is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

But sales are still a long way off. The two countries are yet to formally begin negotiating the necessary nuclear safeguards agreement, which could take a year or more.

Ms Gillard will also meet with Indian Opposition Leader Sushma Swaraj and National Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi, widow of assassinated former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Ms Gillard is likely to extend a fresh invitation to Mr Singh to visit Australia. He was meant to attend the CHOGM summit in Perth last year but pulled out.

It has been 26 years since an Indian leader visited Australia.

Ms Gillard is scheduled to leave New Delhi on Wednesday night and arrive back in Australia on Thursday.