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Key Highlights of Nirmala Sitharaman’s Bilateral Engagements on Sidelines of Partnership Summit 2015

On the margins of the Partnership Summit held in Jaipur, Rajasthan during 15-17 January 2015, the Minister of State for Commerce & Industry (Independent Charge), Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman met a number of her counterparts from the participating countries as well representatives of international organizations.

In a meeting with H.E. Y.B. Dato’ Sri Mustapa Mohamed, Minister of International Trade and Industry of Malaysia, the Ministers exchanged views on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations, Malaysia’s increasing investment in India and the India-Malaysia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement.

Smt. Sitharaman also met H.E. Dr. Ekwow Spio-Garbrah, the Minister for Trade & Industry of Ghana. They discussed bilateral trade relations and expressed hope that this would continue to grow. Smt. Sitharaman expressed satisfaction at the recent successful visit to India by the Vice President of Ghana in November 2014 for attending the CII World Economic Forum Summit. She noted the need to have the next round of the Joint Commission which will provide the necessary platform to take stock of economic and commercial ties. They also spoke of the next India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS). The Indian Minister also referred to training programmes offered by India under the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) Programme. Dr. Garbrah extended an invitation to Smt. Sitharaman to visit Ghana.

The Indian Minister met H.E. Mr. Tofail Ahmed, Minister of Commerce, Bangladesh. They had a frank and friendly discussion on several issues including bilateral trade, the renewal of the Trade Agreement between the two countries and opening of Border Haats, transit arrangements, India’s Duty Free Tariff Preference Scheme for LDCs and trade infrastructure. Smt. Sitharaman also had a meeting with Ms. Gao Yan, Vice-Minister in the Ministry of Commerce of China. Smt. Sitharaman spoke of the important role of the two countries in many international forums such as the WTO and BRICS. While expressing satisfaction at the remarkable expansion of bilateral trade between the two countries, which stood at USD 65.90 bn in 2013-14, the Minister expressed concern at the growing trade deficit which was USD 36bn in the same period. The Minister said that India has global competitive advantage in niche engineering products, pharmaceuticals, cotton textiles, home furnishings etc. However these products have a limited presence in the Chinese market due to various issues related to tariff barriers, regulatory and other complexities which impede India’s exports. India also has concerns regarding market access for agricultural and pharmaceutical products. Also, Indian entities face several regulatory hurdles and other complex domestic certification requirements to bid for government tenders and government sponsored IT projects.

Smt. Sitharaman drew attention to the many opportunities for Chinese investment in India.

The Chinese Vice-Minister referred to the numerous interactions that had taken place in 2014 between the two countries, including the visit of the Chinese President to India, which had taken relations to a new stage. She expressed satisfaction at the in-depth discussion on India-China commercial relations at the 10th JEG meeting at the Ministerial level which took place in September 2014. The Vice-Minister acknowledged the trade imbalance and said that the Chinese government was keen on promoting imports into the country.

Smt. Sitharaman met H.E. Mr. Andrew Robb AO, MP, Australia’s Minister for Trade and Investment. They had a productive discussion on taking the India-Australia CECA negotiations forward in a creative and constructive manner. On the issue of market access for Australian goods, both agricultural and industrial, Minister Robb said that they were looking at the premium end of the Indian market and would not be competing with domestic production, given the size of the Indian market, and the high costs of production coupled with far lower levels of production in Australia.

The Indian side said that there is considerable potential for Australia to scale up their investment in India very substantially, in areas including cold chain, bio-tech projects, marine sector, engineering and manufacturing sectors apart from mining and energy related projects.

Smt. Nirmala Sitharaman also met the Director General (DG) of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and representatives of OECD, the Confederation of British Industry and the UK India Business Council. The Minister had a frank discussion with the DG, WTO, Mr. Roberto Azev?do. The Minister appreciated the openness and flexibility shown by the DG in their earlier interactions. Observing that she was aiming to set the contours of the discussion in the months ahead, rather than the agenda, the Minister said that India strongly subscribed to the multilateral trading system and the WTO. The Minister emphasised that that there should be no differentiation made amongst developing countries as regards commitments to be undertaken or in the matter of special and differential treatment for developing countries. The Minister also said that the Doha mandate should not be re-opened; nor should there be any cherry picking of issues from the Doha Development Agenda or introduction of new issues that only served the commercial interests of a few developed countries. The Minister also said that a permanent solution on the issue of public stockholding for food security purposes was critical and should be addressed on priority.

Referring to the commitment by WTO members to finalise a Work Programme on the rest of the Doha Development Agenda by July 2015 and the upcoming Tenth Ministerial Conference of the WTO in Nairobi, Kenya in December 2015, Mr. Azev?do said that pragmatism was needed in order to move forward and promised that he would do everything he could to help the WTO members to decide on the way forward.

The representative from OECD expressed support to the Make in India initiative launched by the Government of India and offered the services of OECD at the Central and State level to promote this agenda.

The Minister held talks with UKIBC and CBI to lay the agenda for the next meeting of JETCO in London on 19-20 January 2015.

In discussions with the Director Generals of WIPO and UNIDO, the Minister stressed on the strengths of the Indian IPR regime and said that the draft of a new IP Policy had been circulated to stakeholders recently. The Indian judiciary is strong in protecting and upholding intellectual property rights. The Indian Government is keen to bring greater clarity and transparency to assure foreign participation under the Make in India initiative.

DG UNIDO Dr. Li Yong expressed keenness of UNIDO to design and implement the new Country Programme to support the Make in India initiative. He promised cutting edge technologies under the aegis of UNIDO, especially for the MSME sector.

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