Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal said India is no longer signing free trade agreements (FTAs) just to join a group and instead it is looking at reciprocal access, good market conditions, and fair play in trade in both goods and services. However, he added that FTA is a two-way traffic and industry should inculcate a greater appetite for risk taking as these pacts cannot give one-sided access for Indian goods and services alone.
India has launched negotiations for such pacts with the UAE, Australia and UK and would launch talks with Canada and GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council). Under such agreements, two trading partners significantly reduce or eliminate import/customs duties on the maximum number of goods traded between them, besides easing norms to promote trade in services.
''India no longer signs FTAs just to be a part of a group, or for the sake of it. We are looking at reciprocal access, good market conditions and equitable and fair play in trade in goods and services. 'We are looking at robust FTAs with like minded nations with values of democracy, transparency and mutual growth,'' Goya said at an event organised by the Merchants' Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
All these agreements are going to be two-way traffic, he said, adding ''we will certainly need your cooperation from industry in maintaining these bilateral fruitful discussions.''
Elaborating, he said in an FTA, some items will come from abroad, while some will go to those countries. ''Our focus is wherever we have comparative or competitive advantage, we should look at market access and wherever the advantage is with some other country, we don't have to force the Indian consumer to buy expensive,'' the minister said.
Replying to a question about industry's apprehensions on such trade pacts benefitting India's trading partners more, the minister said the government is engaging with industry before taking a decision on extending concessions in any sector. ''But bear in mind that ultimately in the globalised world, our industry also wants access. We also want to expand labour-oriented sectors where there's good potential and we are losing market share,'' he noted.
The minister further said India has already implemented FTAs with Japan and Korea, and it is not as if the country does not have market access. ''In fact, there will be more access to different markets. Hopefully products will be available to us at competitive prices on which we can do value addition, particularly in labour oriented areas and expand our business,'' he added.
The minister cited an example of the textiles industry, which is facing issues due to zero-duty benefits being enjoyed by Vietnam and Bangladesh in many developed markets.
Goyal, who is also the textiles minister, said India is trying to get zero-duty exports to the UK for the textiles sector and also discussing the same with the European Union. In response to a query about release of funds under the Technology Upgradation Fund Scheme, Goyal assured disbursement of funds after due diligence and verification of pending claims.
He also asked the printing industry to take up with the finance ministry duty waivers against Export Promotion Credit Guarantee obligations to such units defaulting in recent years due to the pandemic and the resultant shrinking of export orders.
Further, the minister listed three expectations from the industry associations, including proactive participation by giving suggestions on issues related to FTAs, non-tariff barriers, and market access. ''Highlight where we can reduce compliance burden and enhance ease of doing business. Identify processes that the government can digitise. Suggest areas where legal framework can be simplified and laws can be decriminalised,'' he said.
Meanwhile, the ministry in a separate statement said Goyal held a review meeting of the National Single Window System (NSWS) on January 19. In that meeting, Goyal said there should be complete end-to-end testing of one set of approvals for each of the integrated ministries on the NSWS portal. So far, 14 states are onboard and the process for inclusion of six more is in progress.
The minister said a Chief Information Security Officer should be nominated to work exclusively for the security and risk monitoring of the portal. The Know Your Approvals (KYA) service is live on the NSWS with 544 approvals across 32 central ministries/ departments. A total of 3,259 approvals are listed.
Efforts are underway to ensure that 13 more ministries/departments are onboarded by March 31, 2022 with another 360 approvals/registrations. The first approval through the portal was granted on January 11 to CMR-Kataria Recycling Pvt Ltd for a vehicle scrappage facility RVSF at Kheda, Gujarat with a capacity of 67,000 vehicles.