Commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal believes that exports are on course to reach the $400-billion target this year and a series of measures announced in recent months will pave the way for stronger growth. In an interaction, he discusses the strategy on global trade. Excerpts:
Have exports made a definitive recovery?
It’s a significant recovery. We will close the first half at around $195 billion, which is a significant achievement.
There are challenges on the logistics front, how far have we addressed them?
Challenges are a part of doing business. Our exporters have done some wonderful work, despite the challenges of Covid, despite the shortage of container facilities and high shipping rates. The government has sought to provide as much support as it can through a series of measures. It’s a holistic effort of the government, the private sector and our diplomats.
Is there a medium- or longterm solution, given that we depend on overseas shipping lines, the containers are owned by foreign entities. Do we need Indian shipping lines and containers given that maritime powers have been global trading powers?
It would be good to have more ships with Indian flags. But it is a very competitive business that requires deep pockets. The equation on maritime nations has now changed. Largely, shipping lines are now housed in a few European countries and may be one or two in neighbouring countries. They are working on an international framework based on market conditions.
Currently, ships are taking very long in certain countries, containers are stuck in some countries and some of them have irrational rules around Covid testing. All of this has caused a shortage.
Hopefully, this is temporary. In the long run it would be very desirable to have more Indian shipping companies and I would encourage businesspersons and corporates in India to consider entering this business. Concor has issued some trial orders to start manufacturing in India and some 34 companies have expressed interest.
Does the current situation warrant a change in the disinvestment plans for Concor and Shipping Corporation?
It has no relationship with the current situation. It’s an international situation that we are facing, the ownership will have no impact on the effectiveness or the ability to serve our international trade.
In the past there have been concerns on FTAs, how are you ensuring that the new ones are balanced agreements?
We are only dealing with countries with which we have equitable trade interests. We are looking at countries where we have not expanded the way we could have.
For instance, UAE is one of our largest trading partners and our companies can service other countries from there. After Brexit, the UK has emerged as a very large market for India.
The EU can help us blunt the edge that Bangladesh or Vietnam have in textiles. We can equitably work out a set of conditions through a comprehensive agreement, which can help us get investment and technology, expand our markets in those countries and push our economy.
Will the situation in China help Indian businesses and exports?
We need to focus on strengthening our production capabilities, in making ourselves recognised as a quality producer and focusing on quality and productivity.
There seem to be concerns in government departments on the draft consumer protection guidelines for e-commerce…
That’s the very purpose of public consultations, which includes feedback from all Indian and international players and government agencies. We are still consulting stakeholders and we are looking at international rules on similar matters and we will come up with very robust guidelines that will protect the interests of our small shopkeepers and ensure an orderly growth of the e-commerce sector.