Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman
is expected to push for a trade facilitation agreement (TFA) on services when she meets World Trade Organisation chief Roberto Azevedo
Set to happen at the WTO headquarters
in Geneva, the meeting assumes significance as it is being held months before the organisation’s ministerial conference, held once in two years, in Argentina in December.
Once an official agenda is framed for the ministerial, nations are bound by WTO norms to discuss that and not introduce new ones. Hence, negotiations are heating up on the topics to be discussed during Tuesday’s meeting. India is pitching for the services agreement to be made a part of the agenda and is drumming up support for this.
Expected to be framed along the lines of a similar one for goods that was passed by the WTO last year, the services agreement would give a major push to the economy. Services contributes about 60 per cent to India’s gross domestic product (GDP) and accounts for 28 per cent of the workforce.
India had presented a 13-page draft legal text at a meeting of the WTO’s Working Party on Domestic Regulation in March. New Delhi had emphasised the TFS was not about new market access for services, a senior government official said on condition of anonymity. India had argued that the draft legal text, covering three modes, was based on mandatory obligations of member-nations that were deemed to be practical, he added.
The modes refer to various facets of services trade, including cross-border services, consumption abroad and movement of short-term services providers. It provides for special and differential treatment provisions under which developing countries are offered a transition period, while least-developed countries are exempted from undertaking any commitments arising out of the TFS agreement, India argued.
The note was aimed at reducing transaction costs by doing away with unnecessary regulatory procedures and reducing administrative burden on trade in services. In its note, India had proposed for simplification of procedures and clarity in work permits and visas for smooth movement of professionals.