India set to resume talks on free trade agreements with EU, US

Source: Business Standard, Nov 21, 2020

New Delhi: India, which has not signed any trade agreement since 2012, will soon revive talks on the possible free trade agreement (FTA) with the European Union and the US. Even as the Narendra Modi government opted out of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), it is keen on inking trade deals with other economic blocs, a highly placed source said, adding that India could gain significantly amid a growing anti-China sentiment in many parts of the world.

The EU is India’s largest trading partner accounting for 11.1 per cent of total Indian trade, on par with the US and ahead of China (10.7 per cent).”We are positive that FTAs with the EU and US will benefit India and talks will be resumed,” Gopal Krishna Agarwal, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s national spokesperson on economic affairs, said. “India is not opposed to trade agreements with other countries, though now that seems to be the popular notion after we exited the RCEP, we understand the need to remain globally and regionally integrated,” Agarwal added.

After intense negotiations for an FTA with the EU, talks have been stalled since 2013 after differences on various issues could not be ironed out.

Other Asian nations looking at trade deals with the west, Vietnam has already inked one
Vietnam, which is emerging as a formidable competition to many economies, has already signed at a trade pact with the EU.

“The European economy needs now every opportunity to restore its strength after the crisis triggered by the coronavirus,” Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said in a statement.

“India should not waste time now. It must act fast before other countries seal the deals,” Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) president S.K. Saraf told Indianarrative.com. “We must revive talks on the stalled FTAs and other trade pacts to cash in on the changing geopolitical order. The current anti-China sentiment in Europe could help India at this point and we must not waste an opportunity.”

Typically, trade agreements including the one with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) have not worked in India’s favour but experts opined that New Delhi must remain engaged with other countries not only to boost trade but also to be heard in the global community. Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla’s seven-day trip to Europe just a few weeks ago is being seen as an important development in this direction. On Thursday the first stand-alone India-Luxembourg summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his counterpart Xavier Bettel was held via video conferencing, where the former underlined the need to expand trade and economic co-operation between India and the EU.

The RSS-affiliated Swadeshi Jagran Manch has not been in favour of multilateral trade agreements. It instead said that India must focus on strengthening the Atmanirbhar India plank.

“India cannot afford to have the Bombay Club which existed in the early 1990s, there is need to remain connected with other countries and that includes trade and economic co-operation,” Sanjaya Baru, economist and media adviser to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said earlier. The Bombay Club, comprised eminent Indian industrialists who while supporting the process of economic liberalisation in 1993 sought protection and measures for a level-playing field.

UK looks East, plans to boost ties with India in Indo-Pacific region

Source: The Economic Times, Nov 10, 2020

New Delhi: UK is Looking East and India is emerging as the key pillar in that strategy. The Boris Johnson government is expected to soon launch its Indo-Pacific vision and align it with Delhi’s vision for the region to aim for a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.

The subject was key item on the agenda when Foreign Secretary met his British interlocutors in London last week. ET has also learnt that UK is actively seeking Indian investments besides cooperation with skilled Indians.

India and the UK are examining ways to intensify trade ties following Britain’s exit from the European Union. New Delhi is interested in exploring a bilateral free trade agreement and has suggested that initially the two countries could start with a limited trade deal (early harvest) with a few items.

India-UK bilateral merchandise trade between the two countries has been in the range of US$15.45 billion in 2019-20, and trade in Services has been around US$ 9.5 billion in 2017. Bilateral trade has remained in favour of India but during the FY 2019-20, in comparison to previous year. UK used to be the second largest trading partner of India in 1998-99. But it ranks 16th in the list of India’s trading partners during the year 2018-19.

India invested in 120 projects and created 5,429 new jobs in the UK to become the second-largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI) after the US in 2019, according to the Department for International Trade (DIT) inward investment statistics for 2019-2020. As per the CII-Grant Thornton India meets UK Report 2020, there are now a record 850 Indian companies operating in the UK, with combined revenues of almost £41.2 billion (£48 billion in 2019). Together, they paid over £461.8 million in corporation tax (£684 million in 2019) and employed 110,793 people (104,783 in 2019). This figure excludes employees of UK branches of Indian companies. If these were included, the employment numbers would be substantially higher.

The COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit are both “game changers” that have forced countries to think very carefully about geopolitical aspirations and how they define the course of future economic and political energies, Shringla said in address in London last week.
Addressing the Policy Exchange think tank on the topic of “India’s Vision of the Indo-Pacific”, Shringla also expressed the hope that the UK would follow France, the Netherlands and Germany in finalising its Indo-Pacific strategy in keeping with a definitive shift in the global economic trajectory from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific.

“Both are gamechangers… Brexit has meant both Europe and the United Kingdom have to look at redefining their relationships with their principle partners all over again. We see this as a unique opportunity to redefine and reset our ties with the UK,” said Mr Shringla, addressing questions with Lord Jo Johnson at the end of his speech.

“The Indo-Pacific is all about looking at what are your options… We would like the UK to come in as a major investor and innovation partner; a range of activities in the digital and cyber age which may not have been even possible to conceive earlier,” he said.

Highlighting that India has not just mainstreamed the expression “Indo-Pacific” but also encouraged countries to perceive and define the region to its full extent – as the vast maritime space stretching from the western coast of North America to the eastern shores of Africa.

“For us, and for many others, the shift in the economic trajectory from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific has been hugely consequential. The rise of China and the imperative for a global rebalancing have added to the mix. A rules-based international order is achievable only with a rules-based Indo-Pacific,” the Foreign Secretary said.

Karnataka to sign MoUs with global innovation alliance countries

Source: Financial Express, Nov 10, 2020

Karnataka has created a dedicated track for global innovation alliance (GIA) sessions for its flagship tech event, Bengaluru Tech Summit, which will be held virtually for the first time this year from November 19 to 21.

Countries will host technology sessions for ecosystem connects, exchange of ideas and people, and deliberations on policy environment. Minister-level delegations from key GIA partner countries are expected throughout the summit. The track will also see government-to-government meetings and MoUs to activate projects for skilling, R&D and start-ups.

Australia, France, Germany, Israel, Netherlands, Switzerland and UK are among the 25 countries expected to participate.

Speaking at an event ahead of the summit, Dr CN Ashwath Narayan, deputy chief minister and minister for IT, BT and S&T, said, “Today, Bengaluru is widely cited as one of the fastest growing technology and start-up hubs in the world, counted amongst the likes of New York, Tokyo, London, Beijing and Tel Aviv.”

He said that to ensure that Karnataka maintains its lead position in innovation, science and technology, the department of electronics, IT, BT and S&T has embarked on developing global innovation alliances with innovation hubs of the world.

The state government is expected to sign seven MoUs with GIA partner institutions.

Speaking about one such MoU, Gert Heijkoop, Consul General of Netherlands for Southern India, said, “Karnataka is a valuable partner for the Netherlands in India in a number of fields, all of them related to hi-tech. The Hague Business Agency will launch a digital soft-landing programme for Indian start-ups, during this year’s [Bangalore Tech Summit]. This programme will enable some 50 Indian tech start-ups to take their technology to Europe. In addition, two MoUs will be signed in the areas of cyber security and agri-tech, where both sides will be working together on mentorship, honing skills, start-ups, and R&D.”

Another MoU, between the Centre for Excellence of Data Science and Artificial Intelligence, Karnataka, and Business Finland, will focus on bilateral market access for start-ups, joint research programmes for societal good and mutual student and faculty exchange programmes.

The Centre of Excellence for Agri Innovation, housed at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms (C-CAMP), will sign an MoU with the World Startup Factory in the Netherlands, with focus on a virtual market access programme for growth-stage start-ups to explore global markets. The MoU will also chart deliverables regarding mentorship connects and mutual industry facilitation.

The department of electronics IT BT and S&T and the department of commerce and industry will jointly sign an MoU with Indiana Economic Development to work on projects in electric vehicles, and medical devices and healthcare. The MoU will be signed for a period of five years.

Delegates who will address the three-day virtual gathering include Annika Saarikko, minister of science and culture, Finland; Karen Andrews, minister for industry, science and technology, Australia; Lord Tariq Ahmad, minister for South Asia and the Commonwealth, UK; Andreas Pinkwart, minister of economic affairs, innovation, digitalisation and energy of the Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany; and Cedric O, secretary of state for the digital sector of France. The event will see more than a 100 start-ups, over 4,000 business delegates and more than 40,000 visitors. The summit will also feature multi-track exhibitions, panel discussions, bio partnering, poster sessions, national and global alliances and quiz programmes.

Italy’s Snam ties up with Adani Group and Greenko

Source: LiveMint.com, Nov 09, 2020

Greenko and Adani Group have separately tied up with Italy’s Snam S.p.A. for setting up a green hydrogen business. This comes in the backdrop of state-run Solar Energy Corp. of India looking to invite bids to build green hydrogen plants, which will use renewable energy sources.

While Greenko has tied up with Snam for setting up a 50-50 joint venture to develop a “green hydrogen” business in India, the Italian firm has collaborated with the Adani Group to “envisage exploration of the hydrogen value chain in India and global markets, as well as the development of biogas, biomethane, and low-carbon mobility”. A non-binding deal was also inked between Snam and Adani Gas to set up a CNG compressors manufacturing unit.

“Through the deal, the firms will collaborate on the study of hydrogen production methods from renewables, on the design of hydrogen-ready infrastructure and on final applications in both industry and transport,” Greenko said. Snam, earlier owned by Eni S.p.A., has the largest gas pipeline network in Europe and plans to invest €6.5 billion in new energy transition businesses like sustainable mobility.

India, Japan, Australia are planning to widen the ambit of proposed supply-chain pact to counter China

Source: Financial express, Nov 09, 2020

India, Japan and Australia are planning to widen the ambit of their proposed supply-chain partnership to include more like-minded countries in the Indo-Pacific region — a move seen as countering China’s dominance in world trade.

ASEAN countries would be good candidates to reach out to next for bolstering this partnership, an official source told FE.

In September, trade ministers of India, Japan and Australia decided to launch an initiative later this year to achieve supply-chain resilience in the Indo-Pacific region. The decision came at a time when China’s expansionist agenda across the South China sea and its borders with India had rattled several countries in the region. The idea is also to reduce the reliance on China for supply of goods and services.

The initiative, currently limited to the government-to-government level, will also involve industries as well as academia of these nations, according to senior government officials.

The partnership is important, as it currently involves three major players in the Asia-Pacific region, with combined gross domestic product of $9.3 trillion and trade (both goods and services) of $3.6 trillion in 2019.

Senior officials who are hammering out broad contours of the partnership are initially focussing on these countries’ trade with the world — from the raw material to the finished goods stage — in 10 key sectors. Accordingly, supply-chains may be tweaked. These sectors are petroleum and petrochemicals, automobiles, steel, pharmaceuticals, textiles and garments, marine products, financial services, IT services, tourism and travel services, and skill development. Of course, this list of sectors will go through further stakeholder consultations, according to the officials.

“The ministers reaffirmed their determination to take a lead in delivering a free, fair, inclusive, non-discriminatory, transparent, predictable and stable trade and investment environment and in keeping their markets open,” according to a joint statement after a meeting of the ministers in September.

Commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal, Japan’s minister of economy, trade and industry Hiroshi Kajiyama and Australia’s trade, tourism and industry minister Simon Birmingham had attended the virtual meeting.

The move, originally mooted by Japan, gathered speed after the Covid-19 outbreak exposed China’s unreliability as a supplier, especially to those countries with which it shares lukewarm relations, said a source.

Addressing the meeting, Goyal had said the initiative couldn’t have come at a more opportune time in the post-Covid scenario when “there is a likelihood of re-churning of supply chains in the Indo-Pacific region and it’s incumbent on us to take the initiative”.

Already, India, Japan and Australia make up the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad, along with the US, to strengthen national security consultation. The pandemic has not just posed an unprecedented health crisis but also caused a sharp contraction in economic activities, disrupting trade and investments. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has predicted as much as 4.4% contraction for 2020 global GDP, warning that the Covid-19 outbreak has plunged the global economy into its worst recession since the Great Depression in 1930s. The WTO, too, has in warned that global trade volume growth could crash by a steep 9.2% in 2020 from last year.

Maharashtra government inks Rs 35,000-crore MoUs with 15 companies

Source: The Economic Times, Nov 02, 2020

MUMBAI: Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Maharashtra government on Monday inked MoUs worth around Rs 35,000 crore with 15 companies even as Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray called for attracting over Rs 1 lakh crore investments this year to the state.

Thackeray made the remarks during the Magnetic Maharashtra 2.0 event, which seeks to mobilise investments in the state, held here.

The MoUs worth Rs 34,850 crore were signed between the state-run Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) and the 15 companies and they are expected to create 23,182 jobs, a statement said.

The event was also attended by Industries Minister Subhash Desai and Minister of State for Industries Aditi Tatkare.

Speaking at the event, the chief minister lavished praise on the governments industries department for its efforts to attract investments in the state.

I am praising you for doing good work. But the job has only begun. A lot needs to be done.

“If I may say so, my wish for Maharashtra, in its 60 years of statehood, is that this year we must have over Rs 1 lakh crore of investments and I have full faith that our industries department will live up to it, he said.
Thackeray said the government had signed MoUs with other companies in June this year and added it has been fulfilling most requirements pertaining to those.

Sixty per cent of the companies have got land allotted and the rest are in the process of final allocation, he added.

The CM further said that Maharashtra offers faith, justice and stability to investors and the around Rs 35,000 crore investment is result of that faith and hard work of the states industries department.

Referring to the COVID-19 crisis, Thackeray said that world leaders are faced with tough choices between life and economy and safety and unemployment due to the pandemic.

Today, as we sign MoUs with 15 top companies of the world, I can humbly say that Maharashtra will emerge stronger out of this crisis, he added.

India, Italy focus on advanced manufacturing; railways & agro-industry to lift partnership to the next level

Source: The Economic Times, Oct 29, 2020

NEW DELHI: The first “Indo Italian High Level Dialogue on Economical relations” ahead of leadership level meet next week was organised to open new chapter in economic partnership including in the areas of advanced manufacturing, railways sector and agro-processing.

The two sides are also exploring partnership in defence sector with special focus on Navy.

This was an initiative promoted by AIICP (India-Italy Association for Cooperation and Partnership), in collaboration with Confindustria and Confederation of Indian Industry, CII and with the support of the Embassy of Italy in India and the Embassy of India in Italy.

“This initiative sees the participation of 60 CEOs from India and Italy and represents the kick off of a new strategic economic partnership between the two countries”, Ambassador of Italy in India, Vincenzo De Luca stated in the Dialogue organised on Wednesday. “Italy and India will join their economic capabilities and investments and focus on promoting a sustainable growth based on green economy and energy transition, advanced manufacturing, infrastructure and food processing, with a long term perspective of mutual engagement”.

Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Luigi Di Maio and Piyush Goyal Minister of Commerce and Industry spoke on the occasion.

Simultaneous thematic tables dedicated to six strategic topics were organized on advanced manufacturing, with focus on mechanics, machine tools and metallurgy; automotive; energy transition; infrastructure, with focus on railways; food processing and IT, as part of the dialogue.

The High Level Dialogue took place a few days after the Fincantieri, one of the world’s largest shipbuilding groups, has signed a Memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL), the leading shipbuilder in India.
With this agreement Fincantieri enhanced its presence in India, providing further momentum to the long-standing partnership with the governmental group CSL, which owns facilities both on the East and West coast of India. Fincantieri, indeed, has been following the renewal and expansion program of the Indian Navy’s fleet for some time, considering this market as strategic.

In the past, the group entered into contracts with CSL – to which the Indian Navy awarded the construction of the aircraft carrier Vikrant – for the design and integration of the unit’s engine system, as well as for the supply of complementary services. Thereafter, Fincantieri delivered the two fleet tankers “Deepak” and “Shakti” to the Indian Navy, in addition to the research vessel “Sagar Nidhi” built for the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT).

The understanding laid down the cooperation principles in following fields:
• design, procurement and local construction of new vessels for the Indian defense market;
• local construction and marketing of mechanical products (such as propulsion propellers, shaft lines, stabilization and steering systems, thrusters, azimuthal thrusters);
• naval automation;
• ship repair;
• training of Indian personnel and consultancies to be carried out by Fincantieri in the field of design or construction or shipyard upgrade processes.

The MoU will be followed by a series of detailed agreements, outlining – from time to time – the respective roles and the scope of supply. Different areas of the Fincantieri group may benefit from these understandings: the Naval Vessels Division, the Systems and Components Division, as well as Seastema, Vard Marine and Fincantieri India.

Cochin Shipyard, Italy’s Fincantieri sign deal for business development

Source: Business Standard, Oct 27, 2020

Chennai: Cochin Shipyard Limited and Fincantieri of Italy have signed an agreement to cooperate in shipbuilding, repairs and training, said the companies on Tuesday.

Bejoy Bhasker, director (technical) of Cochin Shipyard, and Achille Fulfaro, senior vice president (sales) of Fincantieri, Naval Vessel Business Unit, signed the agreement.

Cochin Shipyard, with facilities on the East and West coasts of India, is a leader in commercial and defence shipbuilding and repairs. Fincantieri is one of the world’s largest shipbuilders, by virtue of building more than 7,000 vessels and operating 18 shipyards in four continents. The agreement between the two organisations sets the ground for a partnership aimed at business development and cooperation in line with Indian government’s plan to promote domestic manufacturing.

India Post, US Postal Service sign pact for electronic exchange of customs data

Source: The Economic Times, Oct 27, 2020

The Department of Posts and United States Postal Service on Tuesday signed an agreement for electronic exchange of customs data related to postal shipments between the two countries, an official statement said. The agreement was signed by Department of Posts Deputy Director General (international relations and global business) Prannoy Sharma and United States Postal Service’s Global Business Managing Director Robert H Raines Jr.

“The agreement will make it possible to transmit and receive electronic data of international postal items prior to their physical arrival at the destination and would enable customs clearance of postal items in advance in line with the evolving global postal framework. This will also improve the performance of postal services in terms of reliability, visibility and security,” the statement said.

The US is the top export destination for India, with around 17 per cent share, which is also reflected in exchange of goods through postal channels. “In 2019, around 20 per cent of outbound EMS (Express Mail Service) and 30 per cent of letters and small packets transmitted by India Post were destined to the USA whereas 60 per cent of the parcels received by India Post originated from the USA,” the statement said.

The primary objective that will be served by this agreement is to facilitate ‘ease of exports’ for small and large exporters through postal channels from different parts of the country and will contribute towards making India an export hub for the world, it added.

Exchange of Electronic Advance Data (EAD) as per the agreement will be a key driver towards promoting mutual trade with emphasis on the exports from different parts of India to the US through the postal channel. The US is a major destination of MSME products, gems and jewellery, pharmaceuticals and other local products from India, the statement said.

Pompeo, Esper land, all eyes on key defence pact

Source: LiveMint.com, Oct 27, 2020

India and the US will sign a Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (Beca), the two sides said, setting the stage for a successful round of 2+2 talks between their defence and foreign ministers on Tuesday.

The pact represents a deepening of military ties, a testament to the rapid warming of bilateral relations in a span of two decades.

The agreement is expected to give India access to crucial information that will have implications in any potential military conflict, said analysts. These include access to a range of topographical, nautical and aeronautical data considered key to map hostile movements and precise and real-time information on enemy positions accessed from US military satellites during any potential border conflict, said former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal.

Coming as it does in the middle of tensions between India and China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the implications of Beca are not expected to be lost on Beijing, which has long been suspicious of the growing closeness between New Delhi and Washington.

The 2+2 talks on Tuesday are seen as the last major engagement in Washington’s diplomatic calendar before the US presidential election on 3 November.

Secretary of state Mike Pompeo and secretary of defence Mark Esper arrived in New Delhi on Monday. Soon after their separate arrivals, they went into bilateral discussions with their counterparts—foreign minister S. Jaishankar and defence minister Rajnath Singh. Later, the ministers hosted their counterparts to dinner, a person privy to the schedules said.

“This is the third meeting of the 2+2 held regularly since 2018. The fact that it is being held in person and just a week before the US elections shows both countries attach value to the talks. It also shows bipartisan support for the India-US ties and convergence of political, diplomatic and security dimensions of the cooperation,” said former Indian ambassador to the US, Arun Singh.

“Historically, the India-US relationship has been affected by the prevailing global trends. In this case, the rise of China is giving the necessary tailwind. This has gained further impetus with China’s aggressive posturing in the South China Sea, against Taiwan, along LAC and the East China Sea, besides its Wolf Warrior diplomacy,” he added.

A statement from India’s defence ministry said Singh and Esper “reviewed bilateral defence cooperation spanning military to military cooperation, secure communication systems and information sharing, defence trade and industrial issues and also discussed ways to take bilateral cooperation forward.”

While expressing satisfaction at the “close engagements between the respective armed forces”, they also explored “potential new areas of cooperation,” it said.

“Both ministers expressed satisfaction that agreement of Beca will be signed during the visit. US secretary of defence welcomed Australia’s participation in the exercise Malabar 2020,” it said. The second was a reference to Australia joining the naval exercises that so far included the US, India and Japan. It adds a naval dimension to the “Quad”—comprising India, Japan, US and Australia, a grouping that China has been deeply suspicious of.

The talks between Pompeo and Jaishankar were “warm and productive”, a person privy to the talks said.

There was a review of “bilateral ties over the last four years,” under the Trump administration with both sides “satisfied that they have grown in virtually every domain including trade, energy, defence and education.”

Jaishankar raised the issue of tightening rules for those applying for H-1B visas, stressing on “the uniqueness of our technology and talent flow connects”.

After the “2+2″ talks, Pompeo and Esper will call on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Though India has been circumspect about issues on the table, the border row with China is expected to figure in the talks. Speaking to reporters last week, Pompeo said: “I’m also sure my meetings will include talls on how free nations can work together to thwart the threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party.”