Finalising standard operating procedure (SoP) or guidelines on negotiating free trade agreements (FTAs), concluding the proposed India-Oman FTA, developing e-commerce hubs to promote online exports and launching the ‘Trade Connect e-Platform’ to help exporters are among the key priorities in the Commerce Department’s 100-day agenda, officials have said.

“The proposed SOP on FTA negotiations and stakeholder consultations would draw on the experiences that negotiators of past trade deals gained. It would provide guidelines on how to deal with various situations and issues in future negotiations,” an official said.

The SOP is also likely to focus on new and emerging issues featuring in trade deals such as gender, labour and environment, the official added.

‘Chintan shivir’

Recently, the government held a `chintan shivir’ on FTAs, where past negotiators of trade deals as well as other experts participated to discuss SOPs.

The meet focussed on economic assessment and modelling of FTAs, addressing new disciplines, tackling services and digital trade in FTAs, capacity building and FTA resource management and leveraging India’s FTAs to address emerging areas such as CBAM, supply chain disruptions, critical minerals and Artificial Intelligence.

Negotiations on the India-Oman Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), which features on the agenda, is nearing completion, but a few issues still remain open, the official said.

“There are some issues, such as customs duty concessions on certain petrochemical products used primarily in the plastics industry, which need to be agreed upon,” the official added.

India-UK FTA

While the India-UK FTA negotiations have progressed well, the unresolved issues including work visas, market access for automobiles and alcoholic beverages as well as rules of origin, can be taken forward only after a new government is in place in the UK after the elections scheduled next month, the official said.

Development of e-commerce hubs to promote online exports, and launch of initiatives such as the ‘Trade Connect e-Platform’ to handhold exporters are also on the cards.

While e-commerce hubs will give a push to exports through the online platform, the trade connect e-platform will offer facilitation to new and aspiring exporters. The e-platform will provide information on various sectors, export trends, ways to access benefits under FTAs alongside regulations in various foreign countries.