Friday, February 5, 2010

India, UK to ink civil nuclear deal soon

S Kalyana Ramanathan / London February 05, 2010

India and the United Kingdom will soon sign a civil nuclear deal. British Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Peter Mandelson, today said the two countries had agreed on the text of the deal and it is ready to be signed.

On the possible date of the signing of the deal, Mandelson said: “I see no reason why it should not be signed next week.” Mandelson, along with India’s Commerce Minister Anand Sharma, met the media on the sidelines of a Joint Economic Trade Committee conference in London today.

The civil nuclear deal between the two countries was expected to be signed in December last year during Mandelson’s visit to Delhi. However, India’s objection to the non-proliferation clause in the draft agreement came in the way of the deal being signed.

It remains unclear what non-proliferation issues remained to be sorted out, or whether there were any. Neither Sharma nor Mandelson clarified how the non-proliferation clause was sorted out.

Sources close to the negotiations told Business Standard that the agreement that the UK and India will sign shortly — probably during a visit by the UK officials to New Delhi next week — was presented as a draft to the Indian government several weeks ago.

“However, New Delhi’s preoccupations, especially the Prime Minister’s visit to Copenhagen for the climate negotiations, preventing India from finalising the agreement. Now, the Indian cabinet has okayed the draft,” they added.

This will be the third major civil nuclear deal that the Manmohan Singh government will sign. India has a similar arrangement with the US and France. It has a civil nuclear agreement with Russia as well. An agreement with Canada was signed in November last year.

Mandelson said the deal could be signed much ahead of the ensuing elections in the UK. After 12 years in power, the Labour government could be defeated in June, when it goes to polls. However, the possibility of the Conservatives coming ato power is not expected to thwart the deal.

Though the US civil nuclear deal was negotiated with the Bush government, the US Congress passed it under the Obama administration.

Sharma was in London to hold talks with Mandelson on strengthening the economic ties between the two countries. Apart from the nuclear deal, India and UK have agreed to collaborate closely in defence manufacturing and “high technology and value-added manufacturing”. Mandelson said several defence manufacturing companies in the UK are keen to set up base in India, which would allow flow of technology into the country.

“Apart from helping India to achieve self-sufficiency in the defence sector, this will push up overall growth in its manufacturing sector,” Mandelson said.

The UK’s bilateral trade with India is worth £12.6 billion a year. It is the biggest European investor in India, and India last year surpassed Japan to become the biggest Asian investor in the UK by number of projects.

Over 600 Indian firms are represented in the UK, of which about two thirds are in information technology or software. Last year, Indian investment in the UK created almost 4,000 jobs there.

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