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N-deal: India to provide US firms level playing field


Washington : Underlining its commitment to implementing their landmark nuclear deal, India has assured “a level playing field to US companies” and said it was prepared to address their concerns within the framework of its civil nuclear liability law.

“We are committed to translating the success of our diplomatic partnership in changing the global nuclear order into an equally productive commercial cooperation in civil nuclear energy,” said Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a leading US think tank, Monday.

“We have the reality of our law passed by our parliament. And, as we have said before, we will provide a level playing field to US companies, and are prepared to address specific concerns of US companies within the framework of that law.”

Mathai, who is on his first visit to the US as foreign secretary, was speaking on “Building on Convergences: Deepening India-US Strategic Partnership.”

Alluding to recent discussions between legal experts, Mathai stressed that the two sides must take practical steps to advance cooperation in the civil nuclear field.

The talks are expected to focus on resolving issues related to India’s nuclear liability regime that is seen by American nuclear companies as onerous and a deterrent to starting nuclear business with New Delhi. The US has been pressing India to bring its liability law in conformity with international conventions.

The guidelines relating to the nuclear liability law were notified by the Indian government in November. The issue figured prominently in discussions between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US President Barack Obama when they met on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Bali, Indonesia, last November.

During the talks, Manmohan Singh made it clear that India will work within the “four corners” of its domestic laws, indicating that it will not give in to any pressure from outside.

The rules relating to the Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage Act effectively cap the amount and limit the duration (five years from the date of the accident) for which claims can be made against a supplier of nuclear power plant equipment. It could allay the concerns of companies such as GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy and Westinghouse Electric Co wishing to enter the lucrative Indian market.

Mathai tried to dispel the impression of a drift in bilateral relations that have become pronounced due to some differences since US President Barack Obama’s visit to India in November 2010.

“There are, in both countries, questions about the state and the direction of our relationship,” said Mathai.

He acknowledged that “some of this comes from the fact that the relationship no longer derives its intensity and excitement from the pursuit of one transformational idea, and has matured into a solid, broad-based relationship.”

“There are, of course, tangible issues — in the US, worries about the commercial implementation of the civil nuclear agreement and lingering disappointment with one major defence contract. In India — there is wariness that the relationship may be turning transactional, with an emphasis on immediate returns rather than upward trends,” Mathai said.

However, in an all-encompassing speech on India’s vision of its relations with the US and the world, Mathai said despite radical changes in the global situation “the significance of the US has not altered.”

“But India’s ongoing transformation and the new India-US relationship are both part of what has changed, and both can have a considerable impact on the shape of the world in the 21st century,” he said.

“As I look ahead, we will continue to consolidate and affirm our strategic partnership, by completing existing projects and focusing on the wealth of new opportunities that we have,” he said.