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India and United Arab Emirates on Thursday started negotiations for a comprehensive economic partnership agreement (CEPA) that they aim to conclude by the year end. Though the Indian side indicated that first both sides will conclude an early harvest and then continue negotiating the CEPA, visiting Minister of State for Foreign Trade Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi clarifies that there will be no further negotiations after the first draft is signed in six months' time. Edited excerpts:  

The early harvest that both countries are seeking to conclude in a record three months by end December, will it include both goods and services or only goods.  

Yesterday, we launched negotiations for the CEPA. We have set a short timeline to finalise this agreement basically because we do share the view that trade is a catalyst for economic development. This is a comprehensive agreement which is going to cover movement of goods, talent, non-trade barriers, foreign direct investment, investment in UAE, working together on SMEs, services trade as well as startups. We do see this agreement to unlock and boost the potential of South-South trade between UAE and India. This is surely accelerate economic growth in both nations.  

From past experience of India and other countries, it is clear that concluding a trade deal takes quite some time. Why have then both countries set such aggressive timeline of three months to conclude the deal? 

Our relationship is beyond agreements. We know from the initial work we did together that the objective is clear, and I am sure we will meet those timelines.  

Are we talking about an early harvest or a full CEPA in three months' time? 

We are expecting to finalize negotiations by end of the year and then another three months to conclude the formalities for signature. We are hoping to sign the agreement by March next year. The signature for the CEPA will be in six months and then the implementation will follow depending on the internal approvals. 

But the impression that we got from the press conference yesterday was that first both countries will conclude a mini trade deal in three months and then negotiations for the CEPA will continue. 

We started the negotiations this morning. We are going to conclude the negotiations before the end of the year. We will have no further negotiations after we sign the first draft.  

Ok, then you are saying there is no early harvest and both countries are negotiating the full CEPA. 

We are aiming to finalise it in three months, yes.   

You talked about renegotiating the existing bilateral investment treaty or BIPA. What exactly UAE is seeking to achieve through the renegotiation? At what stage is this renegotiation? 

That is totally different (from the proposed trade deal). That is between the Ministry of Finance of both countries. In CEPA, we will not intervene in those discussions because good progress is happening there. I am sure there is going to be another round in two-three weeks from now. That will be complementing the work we are doing on CEPA.  

India is reluctant to assure investor state dispute settlement under its draft bilateral investment treaty (BIT)? Is UAE okay with that? 

We are told that there is another draft of the BIT. The existing investment agreement between both nations is still valid for two years. We are going to continue to work on that. For sure, we are not going to work on something which is not going to be acceptable for both nations. This is for the Ministry of Finance of both countries to discuss.  

Both sides in 2015 had announced UAE India Infra Investment Fund worth $75 billion? How much of it has been invested so far. I hear not much progress has been made on that front. Where is the problem? 

Usually, advanced infrastructure projects take some time and $3 billion has already been utilized from the $75 billion. One of the main mandates of this is to make sure that this fund is fully utilized. We lost very crucial time-almost year and half—because people couldn’t move because of the pandemic on both sides.  Now I think it will be much faster than before. Our commitment is at the highest level, and we are going to continue with our commitment. Close coordination is happening in a frequent manner.  

Both countries have partnered for strategic oil reserve. What more can they do together in this sector.  

That is going very well. I am sure there are other discussions, not only on strategic reserves but also on investments in the oil production in UAE. The discussion is directly happening between our national oil company and the Ministry of Petroleum here in India. We always look for opportunities when it comes to oil production. Our main focus in this sector is in the downstream where we are heavily investing in chemical and petrochemical sectors. We are building very sophisticated cities in the Western part of Abu Dhabi and there are so many business opportunities for the Indian communities to come and participate. 

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