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India looks beyond US for nuclear trade

By Arun Kumar, IANS,

Washington : India clearly views its nuclear deal with the US as opening the door to resuming nuclear trade with the rest of the world too, indicating American firms should not expect any preferential treatment.

“We look forward to working with US companies on the commercial steps that will follow to implement this landmark agreement,” External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said at a press conference after signing the bilateral 123 agreement here Friday.

“It is also the first step to India’s cooperation with the rest of the world in civil nuclear energy,” he added.

“We are entering into civil nuclear cooperation with the United States, France and Russia and these are essentially commercial contacts and surely the commercial aspect will be taken into account,” Mukherjee noted.

“But we are aware of an expanding relationship with the US,” he added declining to say in terms of dollars the volume that American firms would be able to compete for nuclear trade in India.

“These are all commercial transactions which will take place when commercial contracts take place. In terms of value, in terms of other ingredients, it is too early (to say). These are all estimates; as and when they materialise, the actual figures will be available to us,” he said.

The US India Business Council (USIBC), an advocacy group of top US firms investing in India, has estimated that the nuclear deal will generate $150 billion of opportunity in nuclear materials, equipment and technology.

The US State Department, meanwhile, said: “Entry into force of this agreement will open the door for US firms to participate in India’s civil nuclear energy sector, which is projected to expand dramatically in the coming years.

“The Agreement establishes the legal framework for the United States to engage in civil nuclear cooperation with India,” the department spokesman stated describing it as the realisation of “a historic milestone in the US-India strategic relationship”.

Alluding to other business opportunities that too may await US firms, Mukherjee said: “Our engagement and productive bilateral dialogues include clean and efficient energy, high technology, defence, space, education, agriculture, science and technology, civil aviation, infrastructure development, and information technology, to name just a few.”

Asked about India joining the International Convention to mitigate the liabilities of nuclear issues for companies trading with the country, he said: “We are in the process of completing the formalities in our country and I do hope it would be possible for us to participate in the International Convention in due course of time.”

Mukherjee said India “attaches great importance to this agreement and to civil nuclear commerce with the international community”, which also paved the way for entry of US firms into the Indian nuclear market after three decades.

“By reinforcing and increasing the nuclear element in our country’s energy mix, which is vital to sustain our growth rate, nuclear power will directly boost industrial growth, rural development and help us to expand every vital sector of our economy,” he said.

“It also enables India to respond with her global partners to the challenges of climate change and global warming by strengthening her own economic growth and sustainable development,” Mukherjee added.