Commerce ministry brainstorms to develop SOPs for trade negotiations

  • Officials talked about strategies for negotiating with partner countries to achieve positive outcomes.

Dhirendra Kumar
First Published28 May 2024
The discussions were held with experts, former officers and senior officials from different departments.
The discussions were held with experts, former officers and senior officials from different departments.

New Delhi: Commerce ministry officials held a two-day brainstorming session to discuss strategies for negotiating free trade deals (FTAs) with partner countries to achieve positive outcomes.

The discussions were held with experts, former officials and senior civil servants from several departments on framing standard operating procedures (SOPs) for FTAs and related issues under these agreements.

They also talked about stakeholder consultations, capacity building and FTA resource management.

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The importance of leveraging trade agreements to address emerging areas such as the European Union's Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), supply chain disruptions, critical minerals, and artificial intelligence were also discussed during the 16-17 May sessions at Neemrana in Rajasthan.

Commerce Secretary Sunil Barthwal steered the discussion, with former secretaries from various ministries in attendance. 

Identifying focus areas

“The aim was to develop effective negotiation techniques and identify key areas of focus to ensure that the FTAs benefit India economically and strategically,” the ministry said in a statement.

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India has recently concluded a trade agreement with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which comprises Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein. This agreement was signed on 10 February.

Additionally, a partial trade agreement was signed with Australia in 2022. Negotiations for a trade agreement with Oman have been finalized, while discussions with the UK and the EU are in advanced stages.

“During the brainstorming session, young negotiators received training on various aspects of negotiating free trade agreements. They were instructed on key issues to consider when negotiating chapters with partner countries, ensuring they are well-prepared for the complexities of the negotiation process," said a senior official, who wished not to be named.

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In an important session on 'capacity building and FTA resource management,' experts underscored the critical role that FTAs play in enhancing national security by establishing robust economic ties and frameworks for regulatory cooperation.

Need for interdisciplinary expertise

Experts emphasised the need for interdisciplinary expertise in law, economics, data analytics, and industry knowledge to ensure successful negotiations.

As per the ministry’s statement, participants in the economic assessment session highlighted detailed economic studies, including models like computable general equilibrium and stresed on its importance in FTA negotiations.

On the digital trade issue, the experts and officials discussed the challenges of data sovereignty, consumer protection and cybersecurity.

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"Participants discussed the challenge of on-the-spot drafting requiring mechanisms to draft agreements in real-time during negotiations to ensure clarity and immediate consensus, and how the negotiators can ensure that commitments undertaken are pre-approved," the ministry said.

India is progressing positively on trade talks with Asean Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA), Peru, South Korea, and getting ready to initiate talks for trade negotiations with Chile, Japan, USA, Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), among others. 


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