Government taking a relook at free trade agreements: Nirmala Sitharaman

New Delhi, Sep 7 Government is reviewing FTAs that India has signed with trading partners after the industry voiced concerns about benefits of these pacts for domestic players.

Nirmala Sitharaman

Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said many industry representatives have conveyed that free trade agreements (FTAs) signed earlier have not necessarily benefited Indian companies more. She said one reason is inadequate awareness about those pacts.

"Our exporters have not had the opportunity to fully exploit the FTAs to their favour. As a result, many exports that could have happened to these countries (like Asean) have really not happened. That is one of the reasons," she said here at The Economist India Summit 2016 here. "So, we are reviewing the FTAs, along with industry sectors. Industry is participating in it."

India has implemented these agreements with several countries, including Asean, Japan, Korea and Singapore.

It is also negotiating similar pacts with several regions, including the European Union, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

For example, the domestic steel industry has time and again raised the issue of increasing imports from Japan and Korea and had demanded removal of this commodity from the purview of the FTA.

Talking about India's FTA with 10-nation bloc Asean, Sitharaman said the pact with this region was signed separately for goods and services.

Services is important for India as it contributes over 55 per cent to the country's GDP and unfortunately "India could not leverage its strength in services and get the benefits that could flow otherwise from the goods agreement (with Asean)".

India, the minister said, is negotiating in great detail the mega deal, Regional Comprehensive Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).

Asked about her recent meetings with the UK trade minister, she said Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox is keen to strengthen trade ties with India and India should have eventually an FTA with the UK.

"We have put in place a working group which will go into the details of this relationship in order to see where possibilities exist for furthering (trade ties)," she added.

She made it clear that FTA negotiations formally can happen only after the UK's exit from the EU.


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