Home / Economy / Govt may form dedicated units to build expertise in FTA areas

NEW DELHI : Taking a more aggressive approach to free trade deals, the department of commerce is considering setting up ‘subject matter divisions’ to develop expertise in areas like services, agriculture, pharmaceuticals, trade remedies and digital trade. The move is aimed at enabling India to negotiate deals from a position of strength with partner countries and at the World Trade Organization.

It is also looking at bringing on board sector specialists, including from the private sector, who will give their insights and expertise during negotiations. The outline of the proposal is to strengthen the negotiation infrastructure with right the expertise, robust end-to-end processes and clearly defined focus. “The aim is to participate in negotiations fully prepared. With the free trade agreements being comprehensive nowadays, it is important to have experts from different domains, who have insights. So it is important to bring in people, if required, from outside the bureaucracy," said a government official.

“Whichever is the country, especially if you talk of developed countries, they bring specialists to the negotiation table. They have experts in services, goods or agriculture coming for talks. There is a realization that it shouldn’t be the case that an officer is negotiating a deal for India who has no subject knowledge," said the official.

While India has signed a free trade agreement with the UAE and an interim deal with Australia, it is in talks with the UK, EU, and Canada for a comprehensive FTA.

Experts welcomed the move but said it could only work if there’s a clean break with business-as-usual. “Getting subject-matter experts is a step in the right direction, but the problem is, will it be implemented? Private sector experts will always give practical approaches but bureaucracy always tends to complicate things. And they are people who will take the decision," said Vijay Kalantri, chairman, MVIRDC World Trade Centre, Mumbai.

“The crucial thing is that the people who will be brought should be independent. World over—in US, UK—economic reforms took place and young experts from the industry were made heads of the regulatory body. In India retired bureaucrats are made heads of the regulatory body. How will a person from the same system bring change?" The ministry is also looking at evolving separate negotiating teams for bilateral and multilateral agreements. Queries emailed to the department of commerce remained unanswered.



Dilasha Seth

" Dilasha Seth is a journalist reporting on macroeconomic policy for the last 11 years. She writes extensively on issues including international trade, macroeconomic data, fiscal policy, and taxation. At Mint, she reports on trade deals that India is signing besides key policy decisions of the Ministry of Finance. She closely tracked and covered the transition to the goods and services tax (GST) regime in 2017 and also writes on direct tax-related issues. In the past, she has worked with Business Standard and The Economic Times. She is based in Bangalore."
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