Assuming charge on Friday, commerce and industry minister Anand Sharma said his ministry would look at the possibility of more incentives for exports and for those industrial sectors hit hard by the economic slowdown, and would hold discussions with the finance ministry on the measures to be taken in the next budget.
The minister said while India was expected to achieve exports of $164 billion in the current fiscal, which was good compared to the expected shrinkage in the world economy, emphasis would be on labour-intensive sectors like handlooms and textiles to ensure sustainable employment generation. ''Steps were taken by the previous UPA government in the direction and we will continue with them,'' he said.
Talking to journalists in New Delhi, Sharma also ruled out a review of the new foreign direct investment (FDI) guidelines mandated by Press Notes 2, 3 and 4. The department of economic affairs and the Reserve Bank of India had opposed the new norms on the ground that it could lead to a breach of caps for foreign investors in certain restricted sectors like telecom and retail.
''When a major policy decision is made, there are differing view points. This was a well considered decision of the government. I do not see any reason for a comprehensive review,'' Sharma said.
Sharma, a Rajya Sabha member from Shimla, assumes charge at a time when Indian exports are going through one of its worst phases, with six months of continued contraction. Indian exports in 2008-09 stood at $168 billion, registering a growth of just 3.4 per cent.
''We shall be talking to the chambers of industry and trade bodies and look at possibilities for more incentives. I will be discussing with the finance minister what more measures can be taken in the budget,'' Sharma said.
He also gave an assurance that measures to boost exports would be included in the foreign trade policy which is scheduled to be released in August 2009. ''These will include measures to reduce transaction costs,'' Sharma said.
The minister was not forthcoming on the issue of opening up retail and other sensitive sectors. ''We are not taking up sectors that have not been discussed so far. We need wider consultation on these within the cabinet,'' he said.
Stating that things were looking up for the Indian economy with massive influx of foreign institutional investor funds, Sharma, who till recently was minister of state for external affairs, said the massive FII inflows, which touched Rs20,000 crore in the last three months, indicated the confidence levels of the international investors in the Indian economy. The minister said indications were that this momentum would continue.
Sharma said free-trade agreements that have been finalised with ASEAN, South Korea and Nepal, would be taken up by the cabinet soon for its approval. The ongoing bilateral and multilateral talks with the European Union, Japan, SACU (South African Customs Union) and IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa), will also be expedited.
India is ready to do its bit in moving the stalled multilateral trade negotiations at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) forward and would agree to negotiate on the texts that were put forward by the WTO committees of agriculture and non-agriculture market access (Nama), the minister said. The final outcome, however, has to ensure that larger interest of people in developing countries is protected, he added.