India for fast tracking of talks on pact in services at WTO

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New Delhi: India on Thursday called for fast tracking of the negotiation process for a trade facilitation pact in services at the WTO, saying multilateral bodies cannot afford delivering slowly in the present political reality of the globe.

WTO’s trade facilitation agreement to cut transaction costs, boost exports: FIEO
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WTO’s trade facilitation agreement to cut transaction costs, boost exports: FIEO

Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said member countries of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) can learn lessons from the negotiations on the trade facilitation agreement in goods, which took long time for conclusion.

On the lines of the trade facilitation pact in goods, India has submitted a detailed proposal to the WTO to negotiate a trade facilitation agreement in services (TFS).

“I hope it will not take too long because the disillusion that multilateral institutions are delivering slowly cannot be afforded any longer in the political reality of the globe today,” Sitharaman said here.

She was speaking at a workshop on TFS, organised by the commerce ministry and the World Bank.

The TFS proposal aims at liberalising rules for movement of professionals and other steps to reduce transaction costs to boost growth of the services sector.

TFS will focus on issues like liberalised visa regime, long-term visas for business community and freer movement of professionals for the greater benefit of both India and the world, among others.

India is pitching for this pact as the sector contributes over 60 per cent to the GDP and 28 per cent to total employment.

The minister said the lessons learnt in the time absorbed in the process of getting TFA in goods are very critical.

She also urged the World Bank to engage with the WTO on TFS as it would help in generating traction for the pact.

On allegation that India is in list of countries that put high level of restrictions on services trade, she stated that this is not right and the reality is different.

On apprehensions being raised by certain members that TFS means more market access and not facilitation, she clarified that there is a binary between these two and they are completely different issues.

“Facilitation is going to bring in transparency and also great deal of reduction of regulatory (burdens),” she added.

Citing India’s experience, the minister raised concerns over demand for review of certain provisions in a bilateral agreement already agreed upon.

Sitharaman further said despite services being an important component of the global trade, “we are still not talking about facilitating services exports”.

Speaking at the event, Commerce Secretary Rita Teaotia said TFS, if implemented, would benefit enormously to all economies and “therefore there is no better time to start talking about TFS”.