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Cabinet clears road to Cancun

New Delhi, June 5: The Cabinet today approved the commerce ministry’s broad strategy for WTO services negotiations under which India will offer to throw open services such as healthcare, banking and financial services, infotech, architecture and tourism.

India has already received requests from 25 countries, including the US and the European Union, for greater access in these service segments.

The extent to which India will be willing to open up depends on how liberal or reasonable the requesting nation is willing to be on granting visas to genuine Indian professionals.

The strategy rules out the opening up of retail and wholesale business, legal, posts and courier service and audio-visual services to foreigners.

A few other services like energy, education, environment, recreation, culture and sports could be considered for opening up after further studies are carried out in these segments. The commerce ministry will carry out extensive consultations with the various ministries under which each of these services falls for drawing up its final offer in the particular case.

The Union Cabinet also approved the “framework trade agreement” between India and Mercosur (an alliance comprising Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay) to pave the way for a free trade area with these Latin Amercian countries in the long run. The framework is expected to strengthen the existing trade relations with the region.

The government has been keen to sew up as many free trade agreements as it possibly can with trade partners. Just last year, it began talks with Asean on the possibility of creating a free trade area with the South-East trade bloc, following the lead of China.

The official spokesman said that the signing of the framework agreement with Mercosur will pave the way to enter into a preferential trade agreement as the first step and ultimately to negotiate a free trade agreement in the long-term.The Cabinet also approved a proposal to start passenger ferry services between Tuticorin and Colombo on an experimental basis. These services could be extended to other ports with mutual consent. However, there is a provision to discontinue these services on security concerns at the request of either country.

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