Efforts are on to conclude talks as soon as possible, says Japanese Minister; no deadline fixed, says Ahluwalia

Japan said on Thursday that several outstanding issues need to be resolved before it finalised a civil nuclear deal with India.

“There are several outstanding issues… We will have these issues discussed by the working groups so that we can accelerate the efforts [to settle the deal],” Japanese Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry Toshimitsu Motegi said after the seventh India-Japan Energy Dialogue here. However, he refused to say what these issues were.

Mr. Motegi was addressing a press conference with Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

“This is an important issue, and there are various difficulties that still exist. This issue is still being discussed between the working groups. So, I think that it would not be wise for me to specify what [are the] outstanding issues…,” he said.

Dr. Ahluwalia said no deadline was fixed to clinch the deal. “We are making progress and let’s see how it goes. It is very complex set of issues that we have to address.”

Mr. Motegi said efforts were on to conclude the negotiations as soon as possible.

The remarks come barely days after the two countries resumed their negotiations earlier this month in Tokyo after three years. The negotiations, which began in 2010, had been on hold since the Fukushima nuclear accident in March 2011. The last round was held in November 2010. But Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe, meeting in Tokyo in May, decided to accelerate the talks. This led to the fourth meeting of the Nuclear Energy Working Group in Tokyo.

India not being a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is one of the sticking points. India has been insisting that its non-proliferation record is impeccable enough to warrant an agreement, but Japan wants India to honour its promise — to impose a ban on further nuclear tests — made in the run-up to the waiver the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) granted it for doing trade in atomic energy. For the energy-starved India, an agreement with Japan is important because Japanese companies have a virtual monopoly over the supply of reactor vessels, a critical component of civil nuclear plants. Without an agreement between the two countries, these firms cannot supply to French and American companies that have won orders to install nuclear plants in India.

In a joint statement, which was issued after the Dialogue, both sides reaffirmed that bilateral cooperation was important in civil nuclear energy and were happy that a meeting of the Nuclear Energy Working Group was held earlier this month. “Based on the experience drawn from the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station of Tokyo Electric Power Company…, both sides reconfirmed the need to cooperate in enhancing the safety of nuclear power plants.”