Commerce Ministry promises relief for exporters

Struggling for months to keep operations running, Indian exporters finally heaved a sigh of relief as the commerce department on Thursday came forward and promised to resolve several concerns faced by the exporters — from relief for defaulters under some of the schemes to rising commodity prices and freight rates — while unveiling sectoral milestones as it chases a record $400-billion target this year.

The most drawn-out goal is for the engineering and project goods sectors, with a $107-billion export target set for the year, followed by gems and jewellery ($43 billion), pharma ($29 billion) and chemicals.

If the plan works out, these five traditional heavyweights will account for $232 billion — or 58% of the target for the current financial year.

A detailed plan of action was discussed during a meeting convened by commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal on Thursday. The meeting entails a new Foreign Trade Policy before October, and fresh reform measures for special economic zones, sources said.

While a detailed plan on SEZs is expected in the next few weeks, focused on using surplus land and addressing other aspects, sources said the commerce department will approach the revenue department, seeking a one-time settlement for defaulters of advance authorisation and EPCG schemes.

The government is also looking to extend the facility of concessional credit under the Interest Equalisation Scheme beyond September, an official informed.

Further, to address the issue of higher freight costs, the shipping ministry has begun talks with international shipping lines, although it may not translate into a reduction.

Similarly, the commerce ministry has asked some of the ministries to tackle higher commodity prices, which the government had earlier said was outside its purview.

The meeting also discussed about pushing free trade agreements (FTAs) with the UK, European Union, Canada, Australia and the UAE — which have been in the pipeline for years — although it is unlikely that they can be clinched this year. During the last financial year, these five trading partners accounted for 28% of India’s exports.

“The US as of now has kind of indicated that they are not looking for new trade agreements, but we look at working with them for more market access issues on both sides and I think that would also be a big relief and a big opportunity opener for our export sector,” the commerce minister said.

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