India and the U.K. have agreed on the text of a civil nuclear cooperation deal that is likely to be signed soon on a convenient date.

The agreement came after a meeting between British Business Secretary Peter Mandelson and visiting Union Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma in London on Thursday.

Mr. Sharma, who reached London on Wednesday evening from his visit to Hungary, led the Indian delegation at a meeting of the U.K.-India Joint Economic Trade Committee (JETCO).

The negotiations in the run-up to the agreement on the text from the Indian side were conducted by the former National Security Adviser, M.K. Narayanan.

When the deal is signed, it will be the seventh civil nuclear agreement inked by India since its first historic deal with the United States in October 2008.

Since then, it has signed deals with France, Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Argentina and Namibia.

India has already finalised a civil nuclear cooperation deal with Canada, which is expected to be signed next year.

The U.K. has been one of India’s leading supporters after it sought re-entry into international nuclear trade after the 2005 India-U.S. joint statement.

Contentious issue

One of the contentious issues during the negotiations was the preamble to the draft, in which India objected to the words proposed by the U.K. referring to its position on a fissile material cut-off treaty.

India has insisted that the agreement should reflect its official position, which calls for a universal, non-discriminatory and verifiable treaty.

The British nuclear industry reportedly exports nuclear goods and equipment worth over £700 million and can supply almost 70-80 per cent parts of a new nuclear reactor.

The issue of the food and drink sector also was discussed by Mr. Sharma and Lord Mandelson. India is the world’s largest market for whisky, with 90 million cases sold every year.

The U.K. also sought more access to the Indian banking system and further expansion, especially when banks such as the ICICI and the State Bank of India were expanding in Britain.

The issue of intellectual property also came up for discussion during the talks.

Very significant: U.K

Hasan Suroor reports from London:

Lord Mandelson described the finalisation of the text of agreement as a “very, very significant” development.

“We’ve got an agreed text on civil nuclear cooperation. This is a very, very significant advance. I look forward that text being signed off at ministerial level before long,” he told journalists.

Lord Mandelson said that the two sides also agreed to work more closely in defence-related areas.

“India wants collaboration in defence manufacture and supply and we have our own units who are keen to collaborate with India particularly in R&D. This is an area where business-to-business collaboration between the two countries can take place,” he said.

Describing the talks as “very productive,” Mr. Sharma said: “We have focused on manufacturing and innovation and a number of other areas. Britain has high-tech, and India is ready to absorb it — particularly training across the industry for skills to meet global shortage.”

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