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China’s loss means India’s gain

New Delhi, May 5: The SARS scare may end up bringing part of the Chinese share in world trade India’s way. Indian exporters claim that some established customers of Chinese goods in the US and Europe have started making inquiries to buy Indian agricultural, pharmaceutical and textile products.

While India has been exporting these commodities to western countries, the Chinese have a larger share of the market as they are perceived to be more efficient in meeting delivery schedules and some of their products are also considered cheaper or “better”.

However, with the unfortunate SARS epidemic breaking out, many consignments of Chinese goods as well as those from Asean countries like Thailand are not being picked up by the US and European importers. The stringent health regulations in western countries and tendency to avoid any risk of disease have emerged as strong barriers. India, on the other hand, has been declared a SARS-free country by the WTO.

The issue of stepping up exports will come up for discussion here at a meeting tomorrow between commerce secretary Deepak Chatterjee and various export promotion councils. The exporters will bring to his notice the problems they face.

The government, however, is being extremely cautious in its approach towards the SARS issue and its impact on international trade. It does not want to give the impression that India is out to exploit the situation for commercial gains.

Commerce minister Arun Jaitley is of the view that SARS is a human calamity over which India is very concerned and it is not appropriate to talk about gains for trade at this juncture.

The issue has cropped up at a time when Indo-Chinese relations are looking up with defence minister George Fernandes having visited Beijing for strengthening the ties.

However, the Indian exporters, like their counterparts in the rest of the world, are hard-nosed businessmen and smell an opportunity to push up exports. They view congestion at Indian ports and the customs department’s red-tape as a hurdle that has to be crossed to beat their Chinese counterparts in the long run. These issues will be discussed with Chatterjee.

The customs department feels that they have to keep a strict watch as exporters tend to misuse various tariff incentives which the government offers.

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