India ready to help nations facing foodgrain shortage: Piyush Goyal

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NEW DELHI :

India is willing and ready to support any nation facing a scarcity of foodgrain and unavailability of adequate goods and services of any nature, commerce and industry minister Piyush Goyal said, amid a shortage in global wheat output and supply-chain disruptions due to the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

In an interview on Saturday after India and Australia signed the Economic Cooperation and Trade Agreement (ECTA), Goyal, who also holds the cabinet portfolio for consumer affairs, food and public distribution, and textiles, said countries are keen to expand on Indo-Pacific economic partnership and the economic cooperation and trade agreement with Australia will open up opportunities for the Indian wine industry and grape farmers. With a raft of other free-trade agreements (FTAs) being negotiated, Goyal pointed out that FTAs with the United Arab Emirates and Australia send out a message that India is open to big engagements and is looking to expand its international footprint. Edited excerpts:

Australia already has a trade agreement with Japan and the US. So are we talking about a wider Quad economic cooperation framework?

I’ll be jumping the gun if we start discussing that. Clearly, the Indo-Pacific economic partnership is something that all the countries are very keen to expand. Japan, Australia, the US and India, both as part of the Quad and as countries that share values of democracy, where the rule of law prevails, where there is a high element of transparency; we believe we all have to work together to create resilient supply chains.

While the Ukraine war has led to human misery, it has also opened up opportunities to help other countries. What is India’s strategy?

India does not look at opportunities out of adversity, of the nature that we are seeing happening and playing out. We believe we are very sensitive to the pain and suffering of the people over there. We believe the conflicts should come to an end, and peace should prevail. However, the Russia-Ukraine conflict has caused disruption to supply chains. India stands willing and ready to support any nation that is threatened with the problem of food and foodgrain and the availability of adequate goods and services of any nature. India stands ready to support any nation to fulfil its requirements, such as wheat and medicines. India will be willing, ready and happy to support nations.

India buying Russian oil has elicited a strong response. We are negotiating FTAs with the EU and UK. Are we seeing an impact of it in our negotiations with these countries?

I don’t think that there is any impact of other issues on our trade talks. They are independent issues. You have already seen that we finalized an agreement with Australia.

This is perhaps the first time we have lowered the duty on wine or liquor in FTAs. Could this be a template for other negotiations with the EU and UK that are looking for similar duty cuts?

I have said before that every trade agreement stands on its own legs. There is no template that relates from one country to the other. There may be certain items that may be similar, and there could be dissimilar items. Every country has its own unique circumstances. So it’s a package. At the same time, we have been very careful during our extensive stakeholder consultations.

We have opened up opportunities for our wine industry to grow. Australian and Indian companies will be working together in partnership to expand opportunities for our wines. Our wines are of a different taste, which will help us create international markets for our winery. So our wine industry is extremely pleased with this agreement. They have sought support from Australia to bring tech and scale to help them in their marketing.

I am told there are barely 6,000 farmers who grow grapes for wine. This can be increased to 600,000 and give farmers an opportunity when the industry grows. Unnecessarily we have made this the bugbear because of which we could not engage with many countries. So look at this situation, if lakhs and lakhs of people are going to get jobs and work, we have to do what is good. Should we keep the wine industry restricted to this 500 crore investment that is there today? Or should we not look at expanding our wine industry? Should we restrict it to 6,000 farmers or try to get 600,000 farmers for grapes for wine? Why should we have 4-5 small one acre, five-acre or 10-acre wineries, or we should have 500 of them and encourage tourism?

Of all the FTAs India is currently negotiating, which ones are on a fast track?

In free-trade agreements, one should never pre-empt what a fast track is, what is delayed. It’s like a race. Whoever corresponds or responds to us faster will get the advantage. UAE got the first-mover advantage because they were most aggressive. Australia got the first-mover advantage among developed countries of this nature, large economies, because they were actively engaged. Other countries also, I hope, will now see that India is open to big engagement, India is looking to expand its international footprint, and India is a great place to work in.

The situation is worsening in Sri Lanka. Will it impact our trade?

We are very, very concerned about the situation. We want to support Sri Lanka in every way. You have seen Dr (Subrahmanyam) Jaishankar go there. We have provided significant humanitarian aid also and have provided significant lines of credit to Sri Lanka, and we pray and hope that the situation there gets back to normal very quickly.

Dilasha Seth in Bengaluru contributed to the story.

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