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UK, India near accord on civil nuclear cooperation

Britain and India have reached an outline agreement on nuclear energy cooperation and are looking at expanding ties in defense manufacturing, Business Secretary Peter Mandelson said.

“We've got an agreed text on civil nuclear cooperation. This is a very, very significant advance,” Mandelson told reporters after talks with Indian Commerce Minister Anand Sharma.

Mandelson said the agreement was ready to be signed soon.

“There's absolutely no reason why it shouldn't be signed next week. It just needs the ministerial go-ahead and it's there waiting to be signed. We shouldn't delay it any longer,” he said, declining to give any details of the accord.

Sharma, standing beside Mandelson, also said he hoped the agreement would be signed soon.

A spokeswoman for UK Trade & Investment, the British government's trade arm, said British companies were keen to collaborate with Indian partners in civil nuclear technology.

Britain was a market leader in the sector, with UK-based industry earning Ł700 million in overseas business each year and employing 80,000 people, she said.

“UK nuclear equipment and services companies have a long track record of design, construction and management, and are particularly experienced in the life-extension and decommissioning of nuclear plants,” she said.

India and the United States signed a civilian nuclear deal in 2008, ending India's nuclear isolation since it tested a nuclear device in 1974 and opening up its atomic market for firms such as General Electric Co and Westinghouse Electric Co, a subsidiary of Japan's Toshiba Corp.

But with delays in implementation of the deal, US firms have lagged in a competitive scramble with Russian and French firms whose governments guarantee their liability in case of an industrial accident.

Britain is planning to build a new generation of nuclear powers plants at home, but will need French help to do so.

Mandelson said Britain and India were seeking greater collaboration in high-technology manufacturing, including defense, where he said India wanted to be “overwhelmingly self-sufficient in growing its defense manufacturing base.”

“We have British companies who are able and willing to help bring that about by locating their production in India, by bringing their high technologies and knowledge and research and development to India,” he said, singling out armored vehicles and air tankers as products where there could be cooperation. (Reuters)