Analysts welcome Prime Minister’s announcement on duty-free markets

The Hindu, April 11, 2008

‘India’s decision a lot better than Brazil and China’s offer’

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s announcement in Delhi a couple of days ago at the First India-Africa Forum Summit providing duty-free market access to 50 least developed countries (LDCs) has been welcomed by analysts of international trade here. India’s decision to unilaterally provide preferential market access to most exports from these nations is a lot better than what Brazil and China have offered, they say.

“This is an extremely important and timely step by India to further promote South-South cooperation,” said Consumer Utility and Trust Society (CUTS), which describes itself as a Southern voice on trade and development issues. “Although the decision was delayed by a few months, it seems this package would create meaningful access for LDCs in Indian markets,” it noted while pointing out that earlier the Commerce Ministry had sought more time to work out a formula on LDC exports to India.

Praise for Manmohan

“That the Indian Prime Minister chose to make this announcement at the First India-Africa Forum Summit speaks a lot about its political significance. The timing and the presence of six Presidents and many senior ministers from Africa at the meeting too are important when the Doha Round of the trade negotiations by the WTO members enters a crucial phase,” said CUTS policy analyst Pravin Kumar.Besides, in about a fortnight, the quadrennial UNCTAD Conference (UNCTAD XII) is to begin in Accra, the capital of Ghana in Africa, where the nations are expected to review the progress of implementation of GSTP (Global System of Trade Preferences among the developing countries). This is an UNCTAD-led initiative for boosting South-South trade cooperation, which urges larger developing countries to provide unilateral trade preferences to LDCs.

‘Late starter’

“India is a late starter. It could have done it a decade back. However this time too it is going to prove beneficial for India as well as the African nations,” said the Director of the Institute of Development Studies here, Surjeet Singh. “It is a regional arrangement and the basic implication is that India will not impose duty on their commodities,” he noted.

“The whole exercise has to be taken in the context of the inroads China has made into the African countries,” said Prof. Singh pointing out that India could benefit from the step, as many of the African countries are producers of crude oil and raw materials needed for the industry here. “Even the gem and jewellery industry in Jaipur may benefit from the deal as raw stones are imported from African countries,” he added.

It is estimated that India’s preferential access scheme would cover 94 per cent of its total tariff lines.

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