PMO Push: ComMin Plans to Set up Ded­i­cated Team for Trade Talks

Un­like other coun­tries, In­dia keeps chang­ing its team and that af­fects the qual­ity of ne­go­ti­a­tions

The Economic Times - - Economy - Kir­tika.Suneja@ times­group.com

New Delhi: The com­merce de­part­ment is con­sid­er­ing set­ting up a spe­cialised team to ne­go­ti­ate in­ter­na­tional trade deals. The move fol­lows a nudge from the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice (PMO) amid con­cerns that In­dia is not mov­ing fast enough on its free-trade agree­ments and that it could have got a bet­ter deal on some of the pacts.

At a re­cent meet­ing with se­nior of­fi­cials from other min­istries and de­part­ments, the PMO dis­cussed the idea of build­ing a team com­pris­ing of­fi­cers from for­eign ser­vices and trade ser­vices, and trade lawyers.

Of­fi­cials said con­sen­sus was reached on the is­sue at this meet­ing, fol­low­ing which the com­merce de­part­ment plans to train of­fi­cers from trade ser­vices and for­eign ser­vices for long-term plan­ning.

“We are short of peo­ple and this is seen in al­most all the ne­go­ti­a­tions. The gen­eral thought process is that In­dia is short of peo­ple with enough ex­per­tise as com­pared to other coun­tries…so how do we build a larger team and in­vest for the fu­ture,” said an of­fi­cial privy to the de­tails of the meet­ing.

The of­fi­cial, who did not wish to be named, cited the ex­am­ple of the Re­gional Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic Part­ner­ship talks. While Ja­pan comes with a team of 80-100 pe-

ople, with at least five ex­perts each on ev­ery sub­ject, In­dia has two ex­perts at the most, he said. “It be­comes dif­fi­cult to cover up for a per­son who doesn’t go be­cause there are not many peo­ple who un­der­stand the back­ground,” he said.

Of­fi­cials said un­like other coun­tries, whose trade ne­go­tia­tors have been on the job for 20 years, In­dia keeps chang­ing its team and that af­fects the qual­ity of ne­go­ti­a­tions. Fre­quent move­ment of of­fi­cials, changes in the com­po­si­tion of del­e­ga­tions

and pres­ence of ill-trained of­fi­cials take their toll on the qual­ity of talks and hence, the fi­nal out­come.

“We need a set of peo­ple to sit in the ne­go­ti­a­tion room round af­ter round and ac­quire knowl­edge,” the of­fi­cial said.

Re­fer­ring to the In­dia-Asean free trade agree­ment ne­go­ti­a­tions, he said that the In­dian team usu­ally com­prised about six peo­ple whereas Thai­land would send 35 peo­ple. “These peo­ple cre­ate a depth of mem­ory. Since ne­go­ti­a­tions take a long time, this would help them. They were train­ing a lot of peo­ple. They have a con­sis­tent team,” he said.

Sim­i­lar is the case with Aus­tralia, which, of­fi­cials said, has a sep­a­rate ne­go­ti­at­ing team for WTO talks, RCEP talks and bi­lat­eral ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“Con­ti­nu­ity is very im­por­tant in ne­go­ti­a­tions,” said Biswa­jit Dhar, pro­fes­sor at JNU. “We need ex­pe­ri­enced peo­ple who think on their feet. The strat­egy should also be to have young peo­ple with imag­i­na­tion. This is re­quired be­cause ma­jor coun­tries have peo­ple who ne­go­ti­ate for long,” he said.

At present, In­dia is party to 16 trade agree­ments – bi­lat­eral and with multi-coun­try or­gan­i­sa­tions – and is ne­go­ti­at­ing 17 trade pacts in­clud­ing those with the Euro­pean Union, Aus­tralia and Canada.

“Trade ne­go­tia­tors should be ex­empt from nor­mal field trans­fers. Also, the DGFT should be able to spare these peo­ple for ev­ery round of talks. We also need the fi­nance min­istry on board which has to al­low so many peo­ple to travel abroad,” another of­fi­cial said.

Another lapse on In­dia’s part has been the near ab­sence of in­dus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives in ne­go­ti­a­tions on trade agree­ments, of­fi­cials said. The com­merce de­part­ment may also ask think tanks to spare some ex­perts to ac­com­pany gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials for ne­go­ti­a­tions, they said.

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