Growing trust in India is helping in key deals: Piyush Goyal
The Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (AI-ECTA) was signed between the two countries on Saturday.
India signed a major bilateral trade deal on Saturday – the Australia-India Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (AI-ECTA) – close on the heels of a similar important agreement with the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The negotiations that started in September last year culminated in an interim deal in just about six months. The agreement in itself is comprehensive as it includes a wide range of goods and services. Commerce minister Piyush Goyal is simultaneously working on half a dozen prospective free trade agreements (FTAs). In a conversation with Rajeev Jayaswal, he reveals the strategy behind the successful negotiations. Edited excerpts:
Immediately after the UAE deal, you signed another agreement with Australia. What is the secret?
It is the approach that matters. Earlier, negotiations for these agreements progressed very slowly. There used to be months of gap between visits of ministers who were discussing trade deals. Such delays often disrupted the process of discussions and hindered the progress of talks. At present, we use technology to remain in touch with the other side, discussing crucial issues and resolving them without break. The virtual meetings helped in maintaining continuity and led to expeditious conclusion, besides saving time and cost.
What is facilitating these trade deals?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a visionary and his decisions have been able to generate a lot of goodwill for India globally. For example, during the Covid pandemic, the PM extended help to all other countries by sending them vaccines. Although that was not a deliberate strategy, it helped the world and earned goodwill for the country. Developing countries relied on India and the developed world started trusting India. Although the Opposition criticised him, they did not deter him [from giving vaccines to countries that needed them]. The growing trust in India is helping all such developments.
What are the other FTAs in the pipeline?
There are negotiations with the United Kingdom, Canada, Israel, six nations in the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council], and a delegation will be visiting the European Union.
So, the UAE and Australia template will be replicated in other FTAs?
Every agreement stands on its own legs. Every economy is different. Hence, different approach would be required for different countries.
How do you make these FTAs acceptable to the industry?
All trade negotiations simultaneously took stakeholders onboard. Intensive industry and stakeholders’ consultations took place before finalising each and every term. We engaged EPCs [export promotion councils]. VCs have been used to save time and make such meetings convenient. There is a marked difference between old FTAs and the current deals. Now, stakeholders are part of the consultation.
How do you see the deal with Australia in the present geopolitical context?
A, India’s global position is fast changing. B, respect that India has earned in the last few years is reflected in the new trade engagements. C, Prime Minister Modi’s personal equation with leaders has shown in the speed with which we have been able to come to agreements. And D, the developed world and the people of the developed world want to work with India much more. They trust Indians, the Indian business people. They trust the Indian government. The operative part of this whole ECTA [phonetically, ‘ekta’; in Hindi, it means unity] agreement is trust and transparency.