Business Today

Caught in the Middle

As US and China get ready for a trade war, India needs clever policies and deft political manoeuvring to avoid collateral damage.

Union Commerce Minister Suresh Prabhu is extremely busy these days. Barely five days after he played host at one of the biggest mini ministerial conferences of the World Trade Organization (WTO) attended by representatives from 52 countries on March 19 20, he sat down with his Chinese counterpart, Zhong Shan, for the India China Joint Group on Economic Relations, Trade, Science and Technology to discuss ways to boost trade.

The mini ministerial was not expected to achieve any breakthrough; it was an effort by WTO member countries to stay engaged after the failed ministerial conference in Argentina in December 2017. At the end of the meeting, the participants re affirmed their faith in the rule based multilateral trading system (See Frozen Trade on page 40).

The Prabhu Zhong meeting was more interesting. The joint group was meeting for the 11th time since being formed in 1988. The previous 10 meetings had not achieved any great breakthrough. But this time, China seemed far more inclined to talk serious business. Zhong and his team promised to expedite the process for approval to Indian fruit & vegetables and even bovine meat. The Chinese also said that they had built an IT zone where Indian players could partner with Chinese hardware firms and gain from preferential treatment. The Middle Kingdom has not been very welcoming to Indian exporters and this was a sign that it was ready to open up more.

The affirmation of faith in both global and bilateral trade in two back to back meetings was

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