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Govt targets at least three new free trade agreements by year-end

New Delhi, January 12

India is accelerating talks with the UK in order to sign a free trade agreement (FTA) before the end of the year. Though early harvest deals have eluded India, officials are confident that Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal will be able to finalise three major trade agreements with the UAE, the UK and Australia by 2022 besides revising a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with South Korea.

Trade pacts with the UAE (CEPA), the UK (Enhanced Trade Partnership) and Australia (Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement) are among the eight New Delhi is negotiating with the express purpose of providing a quantum boost to Indian manufacturing and exports. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has frequently criticised the existing FTAs and CEPs signed by previous governments as having given too much in return for a marginal boost in Indian exports.

The Government now is trying to rework previous trade pacts as well as ring in new ones in order to achieve the target of $ 500 billion in exports by fiscal 2023. The first pact is likely to be the CEPA with UAE which may be signed by March this year.

Besides these countries, India is also negotiating trade agreements with Canada (CEPA), Israel (FTA), India-Eurasian Economic Union (FTA), European Union (Based Trade and Investment Agreement), South Africa Customs Unions (FTA).

Goyal in his talks with UK Secretary of State for International Trade Anne-Marie Trevelyan on Thursday will be seeking to tie up the movement of professionals with lower tariff barriers. The move has the support of the Confederation of British Industry. On the eve of the trip, it said, “Trade, as well as mobility, are intrinsically interconnected. Businesses’ potential to move folks across borders is essential to grow the pool of talent, drive efficiency and go worldwide.”

But with South Korea, Goel along with his counterpart Yeo Han-Koo sought to wrap up CEPA up-gradation negotiations in a time bound manner. The Commerce Minister has been engaged in reviewing the India-Korea trade pact for two years with the aim being to achieve trade of 50 billion before 2030 in which New Delhi’s trade deficit is not so pronounced.

With the UK, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, electric vehicles, financial services and healthcare form the focus of talks. The UK is also keen to activate the intentions expressed in the India UK Roadmap 2030 to jointly develop advanced military hardware such as combat aircraft, maritime propulsion systems, and complicated weapons via co-production and co-development.

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