India-EFTA deal to boost Norwegian exports: Trade minister Vestre

  • ‘The most important benefits for Indian companies exporting to Norway would be within the categories of textiles, flowers, fruits and vegetables, and also services’

Rhik Kundu
First Published10 Mar 2024, 08:01 PM IST
Jan Christian Vestre, Norwegian Minister of Trade and Industry. (ANI Photo)
Jan Christian Vestre, Norwegian Minister of Trade and Industry. (ANI Photo) (Ministry of Finance-X)

New Delhi: Over the past year, India and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries, comprising Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland, have diligently worked towards signing a free trade agreement. This agreement aims to eliminate tariffs on nearly all Norwegian exports to India gradually, said Jan Christian Vestre, Norway’s trade and industry minister, during a media briefing on Sunday. This agreement will benefit Norwegian exporters by providing them with substantial competitive advantages over their European and global counterparts. Below are edited excerpts from Vestre's briefing.

EFTA has been criticized by Medecins Sans Frontieres for coercing India into a clause on data exclusivity, which was there in a draft agreement. What is your reaction to the allegation?

First of all, in terms of the IPR chapter, that sector, that's something that Switzerland is responsible for. But Norway is part of the final result. So I can also explain about the final result. We are one EFTA and one India. But there have been negotiations between India and the representatives from Switzerland, obviously because they have a huge industry. So the final agreement doesn't change anything compared to the WTO regulations already. We all know that there have been discussions about this. I understand and respect the views of India. So there will be no changes compared to what we have today. It's more or less the WTO standards that we will still commit to.

The deal talks about a $100 billion investment. But is this a commitment for investment?

The member states are deciding where the companies should invest. And this is about foreign direct investment. So it's from the private sector. Obviously, on top of that comes, for instance, the Norwegian Sovereign Fund, our climate fund, has already invested $17 billion in India. That comes on top of the $100 billion we are talking about. We, of course, have a very bold, but also concrete action plan to follow up on this. It's about creating the right framework conditions. 

We will establish an office here together, India and the EFTA countries, to promote investments in trade. We will tell our companies all the benefits by really mobilizing the private sector. And this is something we're going to measure. We will trace and track the development. And there are some mechanisms in the agreement. So after a certain time of year, we will also assess and see how far we come. So the four EFTA countries together will mobilize private investments. And the goal is $100 billion by the next one and half decades, and one million jobs on top of that.

For the first time, an Indian free trade agreement is being signed with human rights commitments in there.

Human rights, yes, and sustainable development. That refers and goes back to conventions from the United Nations if I'm not wrong. The ILO conventions on labour rights. However, the ILO conventions, international conventions on gender equality, and other ratified multilateral conventions on the environment. So we're not adding new tools or new mechanisms, but it's a common understanding and a common commitment that this is important. And that's because we believe that trade is not only about the numbers, it's not only about economic growth, but it's also about sustainable growth. So it has to be economically sustainable, but it also has to be socially sustainable and environmentally sustainable.

Which are the sectors that you're looking at for increasing your footprint in India?

Yes, we have approximately 130 companies already in different sectors. It's the maritime sector, infrastructure, construction, renewable energy, and technology. We see potential in health tech as well. But, of course, when we have such an ambitious goal, I don't think we can point out specific industries or categories. I think we need a huge range of variety and different companies investing in India. And that's what we will see, I think, over the next two decades. 

Talking about tariffs, I think the most important benefits for Indian companies exporting to Norway would be within the categories of textiles, flowers, fruits and vegetables, and also, of course, it gives a more predictable framework for services, which is also very important. We have 20,000 highly skilled Indians working in Norway, and I'm quite sure that that will increase in the upcoming years. Now we have also a platform for Indian companies coming to Norway to make sure that they can do good business in Norway.

What items will benefit from the tariff cuts and how soon will the tariff cuts kick in?

I think for Indian exporters to Norway, there are no customs on most of the products already. And for the products and services not covered today, the tariffs will be reduced quite fast. Yes, from day one. Into India, it's something from day one, after five years, after seven years, and after ten years. So it's like this gradual dismantling into India, while from India into Norway will all go in one go.

On carbon tax that will be implemented by the EU in 2026.

Norway is not a member of the European Union. We are part of the single market, but we are not an EU member. So the CBAM tool mechanism isn't necessarily implemented in our regulations. And the Norwegian government, we haven't made up our mind yet. I'm fully aware of the Indian point of view. I met with the finance minister just before Christmas. I understand it, and I also understand the European Union that they would like to have some kind of level playing field in terms of comparing products and their carbon intensity. 

While implementing such measures, I think it's really important that we are in close contact, in dialogue, with our most important trading partners. And now we have this new framework, which is so much more than just tariffs and customs. I strongly believe the Indian government that India will reach its climate goals. The issue hasn't been part of the negotiations text in the agreement simply because while Switzerland is an EU member, none of the others are.

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First Published:10 Mar 2024, 08:01 PM IST
HomeEconomyIndia-EFTA deal to boost Norwegian exports: Trade minister Vestre

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