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Business News/ Economy / Foreign officials worry polls, summit may delay FTA talks
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Foreign officials worry polls, summit may delay FTA talks

Indian officials, on the other hand, aim to conclude negotiations for at least 2 FTAs this year

Officials are concerned that India could find its plate too full for FTA talks as it prepares to host G20 summit in Sep followed by general elections in 2024. Bloomberg Premium
Officials are concerned that India could find its plate too full for FTA talks as it prepares to host G20 summit in Sep followed by general elections in 2024. Bloomberg

New Delhi: Envoys from countries that are negotiating free trade deals with India have expressed concern over a likely delay in concluding the talks, citing New Delhi’s packed calendar as it prepares to host the big-ticket G20 summit in September followed by general elections in 2024.

Indian officials, on the other hand, aim to conclude negotiations with at least two countries this year.

Having recently concluded an interim trade pact with Australia and a full agreement with the UAE, India is negotiating deals for a comprehensive trade deal with Australia, the UK, European Union and Canada. Talks with the Gulf Cooperation Council are also expected to pick up pace after the GCC appoints a chief negotiator this month.

“G20 and general elections will slow down the negotiations in the second half of the year to some extent. But the priority and focus is to sign a win-win deal. Even after the model code of conduct comes into force in March 2024, we [negotiators] will keep working. There won’t be any announcements. We are aiming to complete talks with two countries this year," a government official said.

An EU official said on the condition of anonymity that with the G20 summit at the end of the year and general elections early next year, trade negotiations with India may not move swiftly. A second EU official said: “It is going to be very difficult to get the treaty-related documents ready for signing by the end of the year. We are still far apart as far as FTA is concerned. There isn’t any convergence of issues yet."

An Australia official said, “There is a concern that the Indian system could lose its ability to engage in FTA talks with the G20 presidency. But the general elections are seen to be the most important impediment in completion of the deal as the ruling party could get into campaign mode."

But a second Indian official felt negotiations won’t be impacted as the G20 is a multilateral forum and the FTA is bilateral in nature, with separate negotiating teams working on them.

“Negotiating rounds have been taking place with countries every two months. There has not been any disruption yet," this official added.

Trade experts agreed that with general elections next year, India is unlikely to complete any large trade deals.

“India could focus on deliverables before the elections. At most, an early harvest could be seen this year but we may not see big trade deals. Elections could impact trade deals but not G20. G20 is not a legally binding obligation. But for FTAs, you need to take a level of commitment," an expert said on condition of anonymity.

Biswajit Dhar, professor, Jawaharlal Nehru University said, “Except for the UAE, in all other cases, negotiations took months. Early harvest was also done pretty quickly but when you are looking at a full-fledged deal, we will have our compulsions and it’s not easy to get a deal done."

In response to Mint’s queries, a British High Commission spokesperson said the UK and India are committed to working toward the best deal possible for both sides. “We are clear that we will only sign when we have a deal that is fair, balanced, and ultimately in the best interests of the British people and the economy," he added.

An Australian spokesman added, “Australia and India are committed to progressing a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) to build on our Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement. Ministers Farrell and Goyal have indicated their interest in pursuing this quickly. Australia’s trade negotiators visited India last month to progress CECA negotiations."

Queries sent to the commerce ministry and Canada remained unanswered till press time.

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Published: 06 Mar 2023, 10:48 PM IST
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