Manmohan to visit Japan, nuclear deal on way

New Delhi, Aug 12 (IANS) Buoyed by an upswing in economic ties and the launch of civil nuclear negotiations, Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada comes here next week, a preparatory visit aimed at firming up the agenda for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s trip to Tokyo later in the year.

Okada is expected to be here Aug 21 on a daylong visit for the India-Japan strategic dialogue, well-placed sources told IANS.

Okada will hold talks with External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna that will focus on finalising key deliverables during Manmohan Singh’s visit for his first summit meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan. The two prime ministers last met on the sidelines of the G20 summit of major and emerging economies in Toronto in June.

Manmohan Singh’s Tokyo visit was earlier planned for December, but efforts are on to advance it by a couple of months. It could also happen in October, and may be combined with his visit to Vietnam to attend the 16-nation East Asia summit, said the sources.

The finalisation of a bilateral civil nuclear pact could be announced during Manmohan Singh’s visit to Tokyo, said the sources, adding that a formal signing may take place later.

With the Japanese prime minister giving the nod, the two sides have held two rounds of nuclear negotiations and are confident of an early closure of a bilateral nuclear accord that will allow top Japanese nuclear companies to sell atomic equipment to India.

The two sides have exchanged drafts of a bilateral nuclear pact and are closely studying each other’s version with a view to ironing out differences, added the sources.

The nuclear issue will figure prominently in discussions between the foreign ministers of the two countries next week.

Nudged by the US and France to fast-track the nuclear pact with India so that General Electric Co and France’s Areva can use Japanese suppliers for nuclear projects for India, Japan has decided to accelerate the negotiations.

Besides, Japanese companies like Hitachi and Toshiba don’t want to miss out on India’s growing nuclear pie, estimated to be $150 billion.

While the nuclear deal with Japan could be the big trophy for New Delhi, India is hoping that a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with Japan could be concluded by the time Manmohan Singh touches down in Tokyo.

The pact is expected to slash tariff duties on around 9,000 products, ranging from steel and apparel to drugs and machinery, and give a big boost to bilateral trade which was estimated to be around $11 billion in 2008-09.

India is also hoping for a further easing of high-tech trade. Japan’s removal of 11 Indian companies from the end user list and addition of four new ones recently has generated a positive momentum in bilateral ties which was seen at two back-to-back dialogues last month that discussed issues ranging from counter-terrorism to the UN reforms.

India’s burgeoning trade ties with South Korea, a competitor of Japan, has spurred Tokyo to look at the proposed CEPA with a new sense of urgency. Seoul also upstaged Tokyo by launching nuclear negotiations with New Delhi much before Tokyo got into the act. The competition for a share of the Indian market is working in India’s favour, officials said.

Japanese companies are now planning big investments in India in areas ranging from telecom and auto to pharmaceuticals and power.

(Manish Chand can be contacted at manish.c@ians.in)

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