Q: There seems to be huge momentum at the moment with India, from an economic and FDI perspective. Does it feel that way to an insider as well? 

A: Absolutely right. I think for a long time, starting from 1991, when we started the liberalisation process, we have been building up. But particularly in the past couple of years things have started to come together. There is an increasing self-confidence in India to open up to the world and say: 'Come here, we have a huge market, we have a growing middle class, and we are willing to welcome foreign investment in this country.' The response from the world has been positive.  

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I still think we have quite some way to go. And this is why we are focusing at the same time on the ease of doing business in India. We recognise that we need to look at our regulations, we need to look at our regulatory frameworks to facilitate businesses who want to operate in India. A lot of work has happened on that front already. 

Q: What do you see as the major developments in terms of India’s trade positioning and access to the world? What are your big priorities at the moment? 

A: What we see in the world at this point is that with the slowdown in trade and trade growth, there’s a huge rise of protectionism in nearly all markets. Everyone has become terribly defensive. Tariffs are not at all the issue... We have very high bound tariffs, the W-2 applied tariffs are fairly low – lower than most countries. But what’s happening is the non-trade measures, and these are not [shrinking], they are increasing. I think this is something that we need as a global community to look at. It doesn’t just hurt countries such as India, it hurts all of us. 

Q: Does Brexit concern you? How do you think the Indian government will approach a UK that’s out of the EU in terms of trade agreements?

A: We don’t have a trade agreement with the EU. We have always traded bilaterally. For us, as far as trade is concerned, it will be business as usual… [But] a lot of our companies actually set up bases in the UK and they serve Europe from there. This will certainly hurt [those] Indian businesses – particularly in the service sector – who choose to make their headquarters in London or other parts of the UK, and how they will access Europe.

For us, as a country, our positioning on the EU-Broadbased Trade and Investment Agreement will take some level of reassessment, certainly, because with the UK not part of it, our interests may differ. With the UK, when we have a good relationship, tariffs aren’t really of serious value for either of us. But yes, we would be happy to look at a deeper engagement because this is already a very important market for us. And vice-versa.  

Q: In the face of increased global protectionism, how pessimistic are you about future trade deals?

A: I can’t be pessimistic. I can’t afford [to be]. We are a country with the ambition to be an exporting country – a much larger exporter than we are currently. Therefore, we are optimistic. We raise our voices in all forums – perhaps too often sometimes. But that’s necessary because we believe that the voice of countries such as ours needs to be heard and to be articulated. Because what we are saying is: “Let’s have a level playing field. Let’s play by a certain set of rules.” This is not an Indian position. This is a position for many countries that believe finally we have to move ahead and integrate [with] the world more. The only way is to lay down a set of uniform rules.