Home / News / India /  Political correctness cannot justify trade deals, says minister Jaishankar

NEW DELHI: Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar on Saturday said trade deals must be primarily justified by trade calculations and not by political correctness.

“Obviously, in a globalised world, no economy can be an island to itself. But the exercise of engagement and its terms must be objectively addressed. Trade outcomes must be primarily justified by trade calculations not by political correctness. Their gains must be visible, probable, and practical and not just hypothetical scenarios," Jaishankar said while addressing the Economic Times Global Business Summit in the national capital.

The minister's comments allude to India in November pulling out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership talks that aims at creating one of the largest trading blocs in the world.

Jaishankar said given that the country is yet to bring its infrastructure on a par with global standards besides scaling up its capabilities, and fully integrate with global supply chains “these are not easy times for India."

“The debate between opportunities and risks is consequently both active and open. At stake is the livelihood of many, a concern underlined by the experience of large (trade) deficits," the minister said.

“Above all, they must promote manufacturing as the mainstay of the economy, not undermine it. There are strong strategic aspects to such negotiations," which is why India has taken “a whole of" consultative approach to the process, he said.

“I can’t have a strategy for India that is bad for Indian business, then I am hurting my national strategy," the minister said later in a question and answer session. “Indian business is at the heart of India," he added.

Many of the countries that joined RCEP had not given Indian pharmaceutical and information technology companies access to their markets, he pointed out.

The minister also assured Indian businesses of support as they looked to enter new markets.

Jaishankar said connectivity was the new great game as it shapes choices and builds linkages that could well determine the future relationships of states.

Connectivity is not just an an immediate requirement but an answer to creating a more regionalised neighbourhood, he said. India has moved beyond the neighbourhood to the extended neighbourhood to the Indian Ocean where it had some important connectivity projects. He said it was a matter of time before Indian connectivity projects reached Africa as well.

India has been “a pioneering voice" in a global connectivity conversation, the minister said, adding that “Our view is that the world is best served by connectivity that is transparently debated, collaboratively envisaged, is commercially viable, financially sustainable, environmentally friendly and has local participation," Jaishankar said.

India was open to working with countries that had views similar to it, the minister said.

Implicit in the minister’s comments were a criticism of China’s ambitious Belt and Road infrastructure Initiative that is seen as burdening many small countries with huge debts.

In his speech, Jaishankar said technology, like connectivity, will shape debates, constraints and compulsions of the future.

The world is getting increasingly technologically connected, and the “flow of talent will become a key variable as global competition is innovation led," he said.

How India fares in education, skills, start-ups will determine its standing in the world vis a vis technology, Jaishankar added.

Replying to a question on India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act, Jaishankar said he had tried to explain the logic and rationale of the Act which aims to fast track citizenship for persecuted minorities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Critics of the Act deem it discriminatory against Muslims given that the law provides citizenship for Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Parsis, Jains and Buddhists.

"It cannot be anybody’s case that a government, a parliament does not have the right to set the terms of naturalisation or citizenship," he said. “Every government does that, every parliament does that. What we have tried to do is that we have a large number of stateless people in this country. We have tried to reduce the number of stateless people through this legislation. We have done it in a way that we don’t create a bigger problem for ourselves. Everyone who talks about citizenship has a context and criteria," the minister said, citing Europe.

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