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UK & Oman FTAs likely in commerce ministry’s 100-day list

Financial Express | 25 March 2024

UK & Oman FTAs likely in commerce ministry’s 100-day list

by Mukesh Jagota

The conclusion of free trade agreements (FTAs) with the UK and Oman are likely to be part of a 100-day action plan drawn up by the department of commerce for the next government, apart from “steps to resolve the issues faced by exporters’, a senior official told FE.

Negotiations on both these trade agreements are in the “final stages,” the official said, but added that due to the start of the election process in India, there has been a pause in the talks. Resumption of the dialogues is expected only after the new government assumes office by May-end or June.In the Cabinet meeting last Sunday, a day after the general election schedule was announced, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked the ministers to draft a road map for the first 100 days and next five years for the government.

Apart from FTAs, the commerce department will also be laying down steps that need to be taken during the first 100 days to resolve the problems faced by merchandise exporters due to the slump in world trade and persisting geopolitical tensions, besides the erosion of competitiveness in some sectors,including the labour-intensive ones.According to sources, as regards the proposed FTA with the UK, chapter-wise textual negotiations are nearly closed and schedules on goods and services are “at advanced stages.” The FTA has 26 chapters, each dealing with a policy area connected to trade like intellectual property, government procurement, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, technical barriers to trade etc.

The schedule on goods and services will lay down how each partner will deal with imports from the other side.The majority of difficult issues are towards resolution and a couple of priority areas to seal the deal are being ironed out, some officials added. The sticking points in the negotiations have been issues around rules of origin, social security, duty cuts on cars and whisky, liberal visas for professionals, national treatment for businesses in the services sector.

The negotiations for an FTA with the UK started in January 2022 and officials from both sides have held 14 rounds of talks so far. In between the rounds of negotiations, the top officials and even the prime ministers have intervened when the talks have got stuck somewhere. PM Modi and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak spoke on March 12 and noted the progress made in the FTA.

Along with the FTA, both sides are also negotiating a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) and both these pacts are expected to be signed simultaneously. Within BIT, the major issue of contention is how investment disputes will be settled.With Oman also, the negotiations are nearing conclusion for a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). Both sides started formal negotiations for CEPA in November last year and within four months, Oman became India’s third largest export destination among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. Once the FTA is signed, it could also be a gateway to other countries of the grouping.India has so far signed 14 FTAs with individual countries and economic blocs.

 source: Financial Express