First day, first show: ministers set agenda

Written by fe Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: May 30 2009, 06:11am hrs
Anand Sharma, 56, took charge as commerce and industry minister on Friday, and promised sops for exports sector, especially the employment-intensive ones like textiles and handicrafts, in the Budget in July and the Foreign Trade Policy in August.

He said India was for resuming the nearly eight-year-old Doha Development Round talks of the World Trade Organisation as soon as possible by taking the draft texts released by the WTO in December 2008 on agriculture and industrial goods as the starting point of talks.

Sharma said the larger interests of the developing countries must be protected as the current Round of talks is a development oriented one.

He assumes office at a challenging time when Indian exports have been shrinking since October 2008 following the global financial crisis and the consequent demand slowdown in major markets like the US and European Union. Sharma said total exports in 2008-09 would reach only around $164 billion, the same as that of last year. His predecessor Kamal Nath had set an export target of $200 billion for this fiscal.

By Wednesday (June 3) we will complete discussions with industry chambers and exporters organisations, he said, adding that the inputs will be used in the Budget and FTP to formulate incentives for the exports sector. There will also be measures to reduce the transaction cost of exporters, he said.

Sharma, however, ruled out any changes in the controversial Press Notes 2, 3 and 4 of 2009 on foreign investment issued recently by the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion. On further easing of caps on FDI, including in retail sector, he said, those require wider consultations with the Cabinet.

He said the Centre would work closely with the state governments to ensure that there is an investor-friendly environment. Sharma said he would re-energize the Inter-State Trade Council by requesting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself to chair the first meeting of the council.

Sharma said the government has also finalised the India-Asean Free Trade Agreement and the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement with Nepal and Korea. We shall be taking them to Cabinet soon, he said.

Sharma said the government would soon come out with a relief package for the employment intensive plantation sector that is reeling under huge debt. On SEZs he said the government would take on board all the concerns expressed by allies of the UPA including the Trinamool Congress.