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India on Tuesday asked for zero duty access from Israel under the proposed free trade agreement (FTA) on certain sectors such as automobiles, textiles, footwear and shrimps even as Israeli economy minister Naftali Bennett urged the conclusion of the deal at the earliest. Bennett, who is on a four-day visit here, met Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma on Tuesday and discussed the state of play in the FTA talks. Both sides held intense discussions on how to take the delayed negotiations forward, an official told Business Standard. Sharma is believed to have also expressed his keenness on technology transfer between both countries. He has also asked Israel for a list of firms with whom joint ventures can be explored by Indian firms. “The bilateral trade (between India and Israel) is $5 billion, at present. I think it could easily be doubled in the next five years, if we take this FTA forward,” Bennett said. Talks for having the FTA started in 2007. But since then, there had been very little progress on the issue.
So far, both sides had seven rounds of talks with the last one taking place in June. The next round of negotiations are expected to take place in November. Bennett, who is leading a high-tech business delegation comprising of 10-15 IT firms, also said that Indian and Israeli firms can join hands in areas such as research and development and innovation. He said both sides can form joint ventures in sectors like renewable energy, agriculture, water technology, food technology, ICT and medical devices. Bennett on Tuesday also invited HCL Technologies to invest in Israel for greater collaboration in the information technology space. He also met law minister and minister of communications and IT Kapil Sibal before addressing Nasscom and Ficci. During his meeting with Finance Minister P Chidambaram, the minister spoke of scaling up cooperation in the Research & Development sector. Bennett is leaving for Mumbai on Wednesday where he is expected to meet chairman of the Tata Group Cyrus Mistry and chairman and managing director of Reliance Industries Ltd. Mukesh Ambani.