India is keen to join the Eurasian Economic Union, comprising the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan and Belarus, to push trade through India's west coast via Iran to the central Asian countries.
Minister of state for commerce and industry Nirmala Sitharaman led a high-powered delegation to the annual St Petersburg International and Economic Forum (SPIEF) held on 18-20 June 2015 at St Petersburg, Russia, which included a 30-member business delegation from CII.
The minister held bilateral discussions with Viktor Khristenko, chairman of the Eurasian Economic Union, Denis Manturov, minister of industry and trade and Andrey Slepnev, member (trade), Eurasian Economic Union.
India also signed a joint statement for establishing a joint study group between India and the Eurasian Economic Union, which will study the feasibility of a free-trade agreement.
The study group will submit its report within a year regarding the feasibility of an FTA between India and the Eurasian Economic Union.
India is already negotiating the International North-South Transport Corridor Project (INSTC) with Russia to promote bilateral trade.
The project proposes greater movement across Nhava Sheva port in Mumbai through Bandar Abbas in Iran to Astrakhan in Russia and Baku in Azerbaijan.
Sitharaman highlighted the importance of this corridor to her counterpart during bilateral discussions and emphasised the need for multinational access of Eurasian countries to this proposed route.
The minister participated in the panel discussion on `The Eurasian Economic Union: A new Compass in Global Economic Relations' during SPIEF.
The issue of renewal of Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPPA) between India and Russia also came up for discussion during her bilateral interactions.
Both countries agreed that the present level of investment and trade between the two, which is currently in the range of $11 billion and $13 billion, is very low compared to the historically warm relationship between the two countries.
Accordingly, they agreed to take all necessary steps to ensure that the target of bilateral investment of $15 billion each way by the year 2025 signed during the last Annual Summit is achieved.
Sitaraman informed the Russian delegation about the rationalisation and liberalisation of India's FDI policy and steps taken to facilitate 'Ease of Doing Business' in India under the flagship programme `Make In India', launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in September 2014.
India, she pointed out, was among the most open economies for making investment and that the recent initiatives offered huge opportunities for Russian investors in India.
Sitaraman also accepted an invitation extended by the Russian government to participate as partner country in the major industrial fair `INNOPROM 2016', to be held at Yekaterinburg, Russia in July 2016.
The minister conveyed this to her counter-part Denis Manturov, minister of industry and trade of the Russian Federation at a bilateral meeting held at St Petersburg on 19 June. India is likely to participate in the key handing over ceremony at Moscow later this year.