The time frame to resume negotiations for the stalled free trade agreement with the European Union (EU) and to initiate fresh talks for a pact with the UK will be “very early” and the talks will start soon after completion of the preparatory work, Commerce Secretary Anup Wadhawan said on Thursday. He expressed hope that within this year, or close to the end of the year, the negotiations with both the regions should start.

All the preparatory work to start the talks has to be done and “very soon” after that, the formal negotiations will begin, he told reporters.

“The interactions are already underway. In the beginning, we will do some preparatory work, especially with the UK. The preparatory work is going to be some more elaborate since the negotiations are starting for the first time and with the EU also, some amount of preparatory work has to happen because there was long disruption in the negotiations,” Wadhawan said.

Some time this year itself, there is a likelihood of completion of the preparatory work and launch of the negotiations, “So the time frame is very early,” he added.

The proposed free trade agreement with the EU, officially dubbed as Broad-based Trade and Investment Agreement (BTIA), has been stalled since May 2013 as both sides are yet to iron out differences over several issues.

Last month, the UK government stated that it has kicked off preparations for a free trade agreement with India, launching a 14-week consultation to seek the views of the public and business before formal negotiations begin later this year.

With the EU, Wadhawan said that at the highest level, a clear agreement was there on resumption of negotiations, tracks on which talks will happen, and a clear resolve to expedite finality in the negotiations at an early date.

Further, he said that India is also pursuing upgradation of preferential trade agreements with Chile and MERCOSUR (Latin American nations — Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay).

India is also taking forward negotiations with various other countries, including Israel.

“So very wide ranging efforts are underway. Also, efforts (are on) to review our existing FTAs and upgrade them and achieve their potential in a better manner whether it is with Korea, Asean and Japan,” he said.

When asked about the country’s exports, he said the recovery is happening at a faster rate and several sectors are recording healthy growth rates.

“We are anticipating something around USD 400 billion in goods exports (in the current fiscal) and we are going to work towards that as the early signs are very encouraging. We will reach the figure of around USD 400 billion and for that, we will work hard to achieve,” the secretary said.

India’s exports grew by 67.39 per cent to USD 32.21 billion in May driven by healthy growth in sectors such as engineering, petroleum products, and gems and jewellery.

On rates for the tax refund scheme for exporters — Remission of Duties and Taxes on Exported Products (RoDTEP) — he said it was a new scheme and “needless to say that it has some implementation issues, so have been addressing those issues and very soon we will be able to implement” that.

He added that the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme is “perfectly” WTO (World Trade Organisation) compatible.

When asked about the US announcement of suspension of tariffs on six countries, including India, that have imposed or are considering equalisation levy/ digital services tax on e-commerce companies, the secretary said efforts are underway at the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) platform for some way forward on the digital tax matter.

“The broader understanding is that all these matters are emanating from taxation of e-commerce businesses. They relate to many many countries and not just India. Efforts are underway at OECD platform for some way forward.

“This is all part of a broader effort to reach a global understanding on taxation in the face of recent developments in e-commerce, recent growth in e-commerce… I am sure, the world will reach some understanding on these issues,” he added.

On Wednesday, the US announced tariffs on six countries, including India, that have imposed or are considering equalisation levy/ digital services tax on e-commerce companies but immediately suspended the taxes for up to six months to provide additional time to complete the ongoing multilateral negotiations on international taxation at the OECD and G20. RR RAM

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