India on Thursday pressed for expediting the negotiation process for a global services pact, that among other things, aims to ease norms for movement of skilled workers across borders.
India had, in February, submitted to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) a legally-vetted proposal for a Trade Facilitation in Services (TFS) Agreement. The proposal was taken up by an expert committee at the WTO headquarters in Geneva recently, and it will be considered for discussion by all the WTO members.
“I hope it (negotiations on TFS) will not take too long because the disillusion that multilateral institutions are delivering slowly cannot be afforded any longer in the political reality of the globe today,” Commerce and Industry Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said at a TFS workshop organised by her ministry along with the World Bank Group.
The proposed TFS, among other things, aims to ensure portability of social security contributions and cross-border insurance coverage to boost medical tourism. According to India, the proposed pact is similar to the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) in Goods, that recently came into force, and aims to ease customs norms to boost global goods trade. India had specified that the proposed TFS pact is also about ‘facilitation,’ that is “making market access ‘effective’ and commercially meaningful and not about ‘new’ (or greater) market access.”
She said the lessons learnt from the discussions on TFA in Goods were very critical, and wanted the World Bank to closely engage with the WTO on TFS to help it gain traction.
Responding to the allegation that India was in list of countries that imposes high level of restrictions on services trade, the minister said, “this is not right and the reality is different.” She also rejected charges that TFS could mean more market access and not facilitation, adding that “facilitation is going to bring in transparency and also great deal of reduction of regulatory (burden).
Speaking on the occasion, Commerce Secretary Rita Teaotia said the TFS, when agreed upon and implemented, would enormously benefit all economies and “therefore there is no better time to start talking about TFS.”
“We need to debate extensively on the barriers (to services trade)… discussion on services in WTO has been timid,” she added.