Dr Ernest Moniz, US Energy Secretary, wrapped up his three-day visit to India meeting with top Department of Atomic Energy officials in Mumbai. He spoke with P Vaidyanathan Iyer on the way forward for talks in nuclear liability law, which has held back US companies from investing in India, and the solar mission that has opened a new front for trade disputes. Excerpts.
Now that you have wrapped up your meetings in Delhi and Mumbai, is there more clarity on clauses related to compensation in the nuclear liability bill that has held back US companies from investing in India?
Well, first of all, let me emphasise in the starting that in civil nuclear, we are entering a collaboration and there has been progress. The first contract with Westinghouse (happened) last September — there is very good collaboration going on in nuclear energy R&D issues. Now, clearly the liability issue is a major one for going to the next steps and there, I think, we have had some very good discussions. The goal clearly is to have an approach that basically adheres to the international liability principles while still being consistent within the framework of a new law. I think there is good creative thought going on there, we are committed to trying to pick up the pace. Clearly we all recognise many issues, not just this one now that elections are coming.
So the Indian law has to necessarily be in sync with what the Convention on Supplementary Compensation…
We are very hopeful that the CSC will be put into force this year. Well, starting with the core principles of this… By the way, not all countries will be precisely in the CSC. For example, France has different approaches but the key is always the issue of fundamental liability being with the operator who is typically the one with the responsibility to enforce the appropriate safety standards and norms and not have vendors with very high (almost unlimited) levels of exposure. So the question how one manages and reduces those risks, is really the key.
Another issue which has been an irritant in trade relations is about the National Solar Mission, where India mandates localisation. Has the US got any concessions?
First, there are going to be discussions on international trade than use WTO in terms of our trying to come to an agreement and I hope we will. What is worth emphasising is our fundamental posture that allowing the market to grow will quite naturally satisfy the mutual aims of our companies and the Indian government, including that of growing industries locally. For example, if you take the wind industries in the US, the wind deployment in the US is around 70,000 megawatts and what’s happened now as that market has grown is the American content of the wind turbulence being deployed has grown from 25 per cent to I think about 75 per cent, and of course a lot of that is also foreign — non-American manufactured — because of the size of the market, they decided to manufacture outside the US.
But in terms of technology and growing the Indian market itself, the Indian government is more eager to promote domestic manufacturers.
Again, the discussions will take place in organised venues. We would argue that if one looks internationally when there are attempts to have extremely strong local content approaches, it often has the impact of limiting investment and certainly for India, as is the case in most countries, the key is to attract foreign investment in the local economy. Again we think this may be counter-productive and there are examples in other venues of that happening. So I think that is a discussion that will go forward and I am optimist we will reach a good mutual understanding.
Since January-end/ February, there has been this perceived escalation of trade disputes on various fronts. After having assiduously built trade relations over the last seven years, are relations going sour?
I wouldn’t characterise it that way. The issues you are referring to, the regulatory ones don’t involve me directly of course, but I think these are completely independent events based upon specific findings in certain areas. Quite the contrary, I think we are committed to this as a very strong relationship. It is an important one for us.