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Wary steps on the way to Cancun

New Delhi, June 1: India will not put all its cards on the table when making its initial offer in the run up to the crucial world trade talks in Cancun this September, especially on the contentious issue of throwing open its services sector.

Sources said that while the offer will be more liberal than the existing minimalist offer, the final decision will be taken after weighing what the trading partners are willing to offer in terms of a more liberal visa regime for Indian professionals. So far, 14 countries are reported to have submitted their initial offers under the general agreement on trade in services (GATS).

India has received requests from 25 countries for greater access in areas such as computer services, business services, telecom, construction and engineering services, financial services, tourism, maritime and road transport services and energy services. The country now has to formulate its offers on these wide-ranging gamut of services.

India had to submit its initial offer by mid-May. However, the commerce ministry has still not got the approval of the Cabinet committee on WTO matters for going ahead on the issue.

Detailed inter-ministerial consultations have already been held to formulate the initial officers. The subject is a very delicate one; once a commitment is given on national treatment or market access in a particular sector, it can be withdrawn or modified only after three years. The changes will also require negotiations with the affected trading partners.

India has also made requests to WTO member nations, including the US and Europe, for greater access in medical and dental services, architectural services, software, banking and financial services, maritime transport and tourism services.

It is primarily interested in what is called Mode-4 in GATS parlance. This pertains to the movement of professionals, such as doctors and engineers, from one country to another to provide services. India is seeking more liberal commitments to allow its independent professionals and contractual service suppliers to enter WTO member countries. It has argued in favour of introducing a GATS visa to ease the restrictions on the cross-border movement of Indian professionals.

The second area of interest to India is the supply of IT services that are outsourced by the trading partner and does not require Indian professionals to move out of the country. This is covered in Mode 1.

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