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India says no to labour, environment in FTA with New Zealand

The Hindu, India

India says no to labour, environment in FTA with New Zealand

19 August 2013

PTI.New Delhi, Aug 19: The negotiations for free trade agreement between India and New Zealand has hit a major roadblock during the latest round as New Delhi has declined to include other side’s demand pertaining to labour, environment and government procurement in the pact.

In the recently concluded ninth round of negotiations for the FTA in Wellington, New Zealand had expressed the desire to include provisions relating to trade in labour and environment, besides intellectual property, government procurement and competition policy, in the pact.

“India noted that they did not have a mandate to include these issues, so they would not be able to record them in the FTA,” a senior commerce ministry official told PTI.

The negotiations for the pact, officially dubbed as the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement, started in 2010.

Both the sides have expressed hope to conclude the talks for the agreement this year.

India strongly opposes inclusion of such issues in any kind of bilateral trade arrangements. It has also refused to include these in its proposed free trade pact with EU.

An international trade expert said labour and environment are social issues and they cannot be included in FTAs.

“These are social issues and not exactly trade issues.

That is why India is opposing. We can discuss these at different foras,” T.S. Vishwanath, Principal Adviser at APJ-SLG Law Offices, said.

The broad-based free trade agreement proposes to cover goods, services and investment.

The bilateral trade between the countries was a meagre $998.68 million in 2012-13. It was $1.07 billion in the previous fiscal.

The FTA is important for India as it hopes to get more work visas for its professionals especially teachers, healthcare providers, technicians, IT experts, architects and hospitality providers in New Zealand.

New Zealand wants access to Indian markets for its agri products like apple, kiwi, dairy and also for wine.

New Zealand has already expressed concerns over India’s tariffs on imported items such as butter, milk and wine from that nation. They have said that India’s duties are very high.

India has not yet given any significant concession in dairy to any of its other FTA partners including Singapore, Japan, South Korea and the Asean.

Further, the official said that both the sides have made substantial progress in areas like Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) and sanitary and phytosanitary measures (dealing with basic rules for food safety and animal and plant health standards).

An agreement on TBT will ensure that matters like technical regulations, standards, testing and certification would not create unnecessary problems to trade.