In 2022, India managed to seal two major free trade agreements, one with Australia and the other with the UAE, increasing the probability of some more being finalised in 2023. In an interaction with businessline, Commerce & Industry Minister Piyush Goyal discusses the trade land-scape for 2023 and the importance of FTAs. Excerpts:


Can exporters expect some handholding from the government in these difficult times when world trade growth is shrinking?

We are all the time available to  support and help our exporters and that’s a continuous process. As issues get flagged off, the government does its inter ministerial consultation and, wherever possible, takes proactive measures to support Indian industry. So we are a 24 hour government available to our business community, particularly the exporters for any problem that they may face.

Just now, I spent three hours on a video conference (VC) with all the export promotion councils. We made copious notes on what steps we can take (to increase exports). All of them have committed to me that they will be pushing in this quarter for maintaining this momentum to the best of their ability.

The Production Linked Incentive (PLI) schemes are all recent. All are in the phase of being developed. But some have also started enjoying the fruits. Bluestar MD  Vir Advani just came and said his company was one of the first to start  air conditioning facility unit under PLI for white goods and they are already exporting.


India will soon host the next Indo Pacific Economic Forum (IPEF) meet. Do you think there could be some pressure on India to get into the trade pillar of the negotiation?

You think Prime Minister Modi can be pressured? This country protects its own interests? We have, at the moment, opted out of the trade pillar because we don’t know the final contours. We don’t know whether there are any binding commitments or some restrictions which can hurt our manufacturing or economy. 

So, until we see exactly the contours and the benefits, we have said we will observe.

If we find that it is in India’s interest, we’ll be happy to join. We have not walked out or not stopped it like we walked out of RCEP. It is just that we have not yet opted for it. In the other three pillars we are there.


How does India plan to resolve the tough issues it faces in its FTA negotiations with the UK? Is an early harvest pact still being considered? 

Our approach (in the India-UK FTA) is to focus on what is acceptable to both countries and  not allow the sensitive issues to scuttle our discussions. But with Canada we are looking at an early harvest. It’s called an early progress trade agreement, in which we are hoping to capture the low hanging fruits so that businesses can start enjoying the fruits faster.


How soon can the FTA with Canada be finalised? Wasn’t the proposed deadline December 2022?

We have never had any deadlines. Those could be estimates. But there are a lot of issues in the ministerial consultations. Please bear in mind Australia, UAE both are non manufacturing countries. They don’t have a big manufacturing base. So the businesses complement each other. Whereas with Canada, while they are also not much of a manufacturing base, with them we have to go into more details. 

The UK is a country manufacturing many products. So we have to do it very carefully. Every item has to be seen with great detail. 


How are the FTA talks with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) progressing?

Unfortunately, the term of the GCC’s Secretary General is over and the new one has not yet been appointed. Once he comes in, we will have to finalise a few elements of the terms of reference (ToR).