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Trade agreements come under Sonia scanner

Business Standard (India)

Trade agreements come under Sonia scanner

Monica Gupta & Siddharth Zarabi / New Delhi April 10, 2006

Concerns raised by a section of domestic industry against indiscriminate opening up of the Indian market to imports have touched a chord at the highest levels of the policy establishment.

Congress leader Sonia Gandhi has asked for careful analysis of the impact of free trade agreements before such pacts are concluded. Gandhi had written to various economic ministries days before stepping down as National Advisory Council (NAC) chairperson on March 23.

Not just the NAC, the trade and economic relations committee headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, too, is seized of the issue. In fact, the finance ministry’s revenue department has submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office a list of items that should not be deleted from the “sensitive list” being finalised under various proposed trade agreements.

For instance, it has suggested retaining 123 items and including an additional 184 items in the sensitive list with Asean. Similarly, it wants 16 agricultural and 11 non-agricultural commodities not to be deleted from the sensitive list with Bimstec.

It wants four items to be included in the negative list for Bimstec due to the huge volume of imports from Thailand, with which a free trade agreement has already been implemented.

Gandhi had advised the economic ministries to refrain from entering into early harvest schemes ahead of the full implementation of bilateral trade pacts. India has so far implemented only one early harvest scheme with Thailand.

At present, it is finalising a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement with Asean, a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and Partnership Agreement with Mauritius, enlarging the agreement to a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with Sri Lanka, a proposed free trade pact with the Gulf Cooperation Council and economic engagement with Bimstec.

Officials said the government had already received representations from domestic industry regarding surge in imports of certain electronic items under early harvest implemented in the pact with Thailand.

 source: Business Standard