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Countries urging India to be more open are themselves sensitive to remove trade barriers: Jaishankar

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar (Photo: PTI)Premium
External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar (Photo: PTI)

  • Whatever the choices India makes in terms of compatibility and balance, there are some issues which India cannot duck, S. Jaishankar said
  • The foreign affairs minister said competing against those with structural advantages cannot be a casual decision justified by political correctness

Making a veiled reference to disproportionate demands put by the US during negotiations for a limited trade deal with India, India’s foreign affairs minister S. Jaishankar on Saturday said those who urge India to be more open are themselves sensitive to remove trade barriers.

Speaking at a conference in Pune on “Asia and the Emerging International Trading System," Jaishankar said reaching international understandings on issues of trade is more challenging now as economic thinking has narrowed in many societies and trade interests are more sharply defined.

“Many trade-related decisions have direct livelihood and social stability consequences. This is obviously not unique to India but it is paradoxical that those who urge us to be more open are even more sensitive themselves on this score," he added.

President Donald Trump during his two day visit to India last week sought a fair and reciprocal trade deal, asking India to reduce its high tariffs on US goods. Both sides have indicated the phase one trade deal may be signed by December.

Jaishankar said the two striking developments of current times — the rise of China and the nationalism of the United States — are both inextricably tied to their performance in trade. “The first captures the challenges of accommodating state capitalism in the current framework of international trade. The second reflects the debate about fair market access, terms of trade and the merits of protectionism," he added.

The foreign affairs minister said for a nation like India, this raises a number of issues that constitute an ongoing debate. “Much of that centres around how well prepared we are to engage the global economy more openly. The past record shows that lack of adequate homework and absence of effective standards ended up hollowing out many sectors. Competing against those with structural advantages cannot be a casual decision justified by political correctness," he added.

Whatever the choices India makes in terms of compatibility and balance, there are some issues which India cannot duck, Jaishankar said. “One is to undertake the changes that enable India to be a more effective player in global supply chains. The other is the unfolding of the knowledge economy and its implications in terms of mobility and migration. These challenges, amongst others, will shape our thinking in the coming years," he added.

As conversations about trade between nations get more animated, there is less pretence about the parallel exercise of political influence, Jaishankar said. “It is, therefore, important that any debate about Asia and the emerging international trading system factor in this reality. Trade has never been politically neutral; it is even less so now," he added.

Jaishankar said India’s prospects are heavily focused on the improvement of infrastructure. “At the end of the day, this may be one of the defining element of comparative advantage. Getting politics, economics and governance all right at the same time is therefore particularly important at this moment," he added.

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