India, Japan resume talks on free trade agreement

New Delhi is seeking access to Japanese markets for agricultural products, pharmaceuticals and a basket of services

India and Japan today resumed talks on a free trade agreement (FTA) that will break duty and other barriers for bilateral investment and commerce in goods and services, reports PTI.

“India is seeking market access in the world’s second largest economy mainly for its agricultural products and pharmaceuticals. Besides, information technology, English-teaching and paramedical services are of interest to us,” a commerce ministry official said.

Officials from the two countries have already held over a dozen rounds of discussions without resolving basic differences, which are holding up the agreement.

The last meeting of the joint task force negotiating the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) was held in October 2009 in Tokyo.

Though bilateral trade has more than doubled over the past four years to about $11 billion in 2008-09, it is considered very low compared to India’s merchandise engagement with China, the fastest growing economy of the world and Asia.

Trade between India and China was worth $42 billion in 2008-09 with aggressive exports of $32.50 billion to the Indian economy.

Japan's tariffs for a lot of agricultural commodities have remained high. Also, sectors such as oilseeds, dairy products, sugar and sugar products face higher tariffs there.

Non-tariff barriers like health standards are also a roadblock for Indian shipments.

“In terms of standards and technical regulations, Indian goods often find it difficult to meet Japanese requirements,” the official added.

For instance, agricultural products exported to Japan have to undergo a dual inspection and quarantine system, first by its ministry of agriculture, forestry and fisheries and then the health ministry.

In the three-day meeting, officials of both the countries will also deliberate on trade in services and investments, a key area of interest for India. Negotiations for the FTA began in January 2007.

Indian has already signed FTAs with the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) bloc, besides South Korea and Sri Lanka.

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    Centre convenes all-State meet to check illegal mining

    Orissa has reported cases of large-scale illegal mining and transport of iron ore 

    The Union government today said that it has convened a meeting of all the States this month to evolve a mechanism to curb illegal mining.

    Besides seeking a consensus between States for “strategically curtailing” such mining, it has asked the Indian Railways to check movement of minerals like iron ore through its services.

    “We have convened a meeting of the States this month to ensure that the State governments initiate proper steps to check illegal mining and transportation of minerals. I have also written a letter to the Railways Board chairman in this regard,” mines secretary Santha Sheela Nair told PTI.

    “While some States have initiated measures like satellite imagery and bar-coding of the produce to check illegal mining of minerals and their transportation, others have failed to take steps. The issue is serious and we are holding periodic meetings on this,” she said.

    Meanwhile, the mines ministry, in a letter to the Railways, has asked it to evolve a mechanism to check illegal transportation of minerals in the wake of reports that several rakes were allegedly being used in the movement of illegally-mined iron ore in Orissa.

    In the letter sent to Railway Board chairman S S Khurana on Monday, Ms Nair said, “The (Orissa) State government has reported that between 1st January-22nd January, out of 181 rakes, only 56 rakes were carrying authorised material from the Banspani and Juridih stations.” According to sources, the State government had seized “more than 60,000 tonnes of iron ore from Jurudi railway siding and more than 30,000 tonnes from Banspani.”

    Reports that the State government had suspended storage and loading licences and seized several rakes in some stations which were being used for transporting illegally extracted minerals, also found mention in the letter.

    Stressing the need for evolving an effective mechanism to check the illegal transportation of minerals via the Railways, the letter states, “We are of the opinion that the proposed mechanism should necessarily involve checking that royalty has been paid for the mineral sought to be transported and the name of the mine and other details are clearly indicated.”

    Last month, the Orissa government had issued orders banning the loading of ore rakes in private railway sidings in the Banspani and Jaruli areas and also Joda East, under the Chakradharpur division of the South-eastern railways, in a move to curb the transport of illegally mined ore.

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