No bandwidth to take up fresh FTA talks: Goyal

Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal signalled on Tuesday that India’s trade negotiators do not have ‘bandwidth’ left to negotiate any fresh free trade agreements or FTAs other than those already in the works, even as more countries are keen to engage with India for such pacts.

The United Kingdom, Mr. Goyal said at a FICCI event, had informed him two days earlier that they still want to seal the trade deal with India by Diwali. “The world wants to engage with us,” he asserted. “The world has more confidence in us than I think we have in us.”

“I was with the New Zealand minister before I came here. NZ is very far away with very small economic interests… and he said even if you are not interested in an FTA… and honestly, I have no bandwidth to start any more FTAs,” the Minister remarked.

“I already have Israel waiting in the wings, apart from U.K., Canada and the EU. The Gulf Cooperation Council’s terms of reference are finalised and they are very keen to launch quickly… it was also on my agenda during the visit to Saudi Arabia to buy some time, because the Ministry just has no bandwidth to engage with another set of six countries on the GCC negotiations,” he added.

The United States’ recent $40 billion semiconductor policy enunciated through the CHIPS Act, which he termed as ‘the only piece of legislation’ passed with bipartisan support, appears “very similar” from India’s one year-old policy for the sector, Mr. Goyal said, stressing that India’s self-reliance push was ahead of the curve.

“The U.S. is talking of building America better and bringing manufacturing back. The only one piece of legislation that they have managed to get passed with bipartisan support is the CHIPS Act to support the semiconductor industry with $40 billion. We were well ahead of the curve and came out with a policy for the sector a year ago. And if you see the CHIPS Act, it draws a lot… I don’t know if it draws from our policy, but it’s very similar to our own policy,” he said.

While the Atma Nirbhar Bharat programme was criticised as ‘inward-looking’ initially, Mr. Goyal said the whole world is talking of self-reliance now.

“Every country has its strengths and weaknesses. But if we don’t engage with the world and international markets, we are the losers, the world will move on,” he said, urging industry to drop a ‘protectionist’ mindset and focus on quality.

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