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Commerce Department and CTIL Host Chintan Shivir on FTA Strategy in Neemrana

Neemrana: The Department of Commerce, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, in collaboration with the Centre for Trade and Investment Law (CTIL) at the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, New Delhi, organized a Chintan Shivir on Free Trade Agreement (FTA) Strategy and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for Trade Negotiations from 16 to 17 May 2024. This two-day event focused on shaping India’s approach to FTA negotiations and developing robust SOPs for these processes.

The Chintan Shivir facilitated in-depth discussions on various issues related to FTA negotiations, including India’s strategic positioning, capacity building, resource management, and the incorporation of contemporary issues like labor, environment, and gender into modern FTAs.

Commerce Secretary Sunil Barthwal led the Chintan Shivir, aiming to chart a strategic course for India’s future engagements in FTA negotiations. The event saw active participation from senior government officials across various ministries, departments, and agencies involved in India’s FTA negotiations. Prominent speakers included former senior government officials, national and international FTA negotiation experts, academicians, and legal professionals, who enriched the discussions with their insights and expertise.

The event featured six dynamic sessions and one roundtable, each addressing critical themes:This session underscored the necessity of detailed economic studies and models, like Computable General Equilibrium (CGE), to guide FTA negotiations. Participants discussed the integration of trade and investment negotiations to create synergies and the importance of aligning trade policy with industrial policy.

Participants explored the implications of including new areas such as Trade and Sustainable Development (TSD), labor, environment, and gender in FTAs. They discussed the challenges of enforcing domestic laws and ratifying international treaties, and the approaches adopted by developed countries like the US and EU. The session highlighted the importance of stakeholder engagement and pilot projects to implement these commitments effectively.

This session focused on the significance of services trade, challenges related to data sovereignty, consumer protection, and cybersecurity. Discussions also covered India’s data adequacy issues under EU GDPR and the evolving landscape of e-commerce and digital trade. Emphasis was placed on leveraging initiatives like India-EU TTC and US-India iCET to boost trade prospects.

Speakers and participants highlighted the benefits of evolving and drafting SOPs to enhance the objectives of trade agreements and create institutional memory for future negotiations. The importance of real-time agreement drafting during negotiations and continuous stakeholder consultations for inclusive outcomes were emphasized.

FTAs play a critical role in national security by establishing strong economic ties and frameworks for regulatory cooperation. The session acknowledged the complexity of modern FTAs and the necessity of interdisciplinary expertise. Participants discussed leveraging on-ground insights from India’s embassies to understand regulatory regimes of partner countries better.

Discussions focused on using FTAs to enhance supply chain resilience, address critical mineral shortages, and adapt to the trend of partial de-globalisation and geopolitical influences. The session suggested dedicated chapters on critical minerals in FTAs with mineral-rich countries and building resilient supply chains.

The roundtable, chaired by Rajeev Kher and featuring former secretaries and ambassadors, emphasized the need for FTAs to balance geopolitics and geoeconomics. It highlighted the importance of regional trade agreements complementing multilateral efforts and integrating non-trade issues crucial for market access. The roundtable stressed effective stakeholder consultations and a balanced approach to trade and industrial policies.

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