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The month of July has been action packed for your Council. The USA, under the current administration, has a narrow, neo-mercantilist vision of trade policy. The spillover effects of such a policy has led to the USA imposing 25 percent import duty on our steel and steel pipes exports and 10 percent import duty on aluminium products exports. The duties will be over and above any anti-dumping or countervailing duties that may have been levied. Further, the GSP review for India is being undertaken by the USA. Not surprisingly, India, too, reciprocated with similar raising of duties on a range of American exports to India effective from 4 August 2018.

This brought the two sides to the negotiating table and the Ministry of Steel and Department of Commerce sought our views on the various aspects of the negotiations that the government was undertaking with the USA. We, along with our members, representing a cross-section of steel and related industries, presented our views to the Steel Ministry and the Department of Commerce.

The USA action led to the European Union to worry that Indian steel exports would get diverted to their region even though our steel exports comprise a small component of our total exports. The EU thus began a safeguard investigation on our steel products exports and on 18 July 2018, levied a quota on a range of products based on the average volume of imports of the last three years (2015-17) by the EU for a period of 200 days. The EU notification talks about the traditional flow method being adopted for implementing the quota and 14 products exports from India are likely to come under the purview of the quota. EEPC India along with its steel exporting members had detailed discussions with the Directorate General of Trade Remedies (DGTR) and the Ministry of Steel on the stance that both Government and Industry could take at the public hearing called by the EU in mid-September 2018. I do believe we should tell our EU counterparts that they have an inglorious reputation of being dubbed as ‘Fortress Europe’ in the 90s and they would do well to not go backwards, just because their major trade and investment partner across the Pacific prefers to look inwards.

Ironical isn’t it, that these very developed nations were the champions of free trade seven decades back, at the time of the Bretton Woods, and then again later in the 90s, setting up the WTO, but are now back to looking at trade deficits from a simplified, static, country-by-country prism. Be that as it may, India must look forward to building trade linkages with countries at a similar stage of development and where there is potential for mutual growth and investment.

Our tryst with GST refunds continues. The Finance Ministry, the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC), and the GSTN have taken large number of proactive steps to clear the backlog of exports refunds and the third exports refund camp was held over 15-31 July 2018. On our request, the Customs officials set up a GST Helpdesk in our Mumbai Office which caters to 4900 engineering exporters. This helpdesk has been very useful to our members. We are extremely grateful to the Joint Secretary, Customs, New Delhi, Mr Satya Srinivas, and his esteemed colleagues in Customs in Mumbai and GSTN for their help in setting up this helpdesk and the dedication with which the officers addressed the problems of our members.

EEPC India is aware that merely looking at trade policy and other commercial issues will not lead to moving up the value chain for our exports. Thus, focus on technology continues and our Joint Secretary in the Department of Commerce, Mr BS Bhalla, reviewed the progress of the formation of the multifaceted Technology Centre at our Head Office in Kolkata on 24 July. We should be ready to inaugurate the Technology Centre in the very near future.

31 July 2018 was the last working day of Ms Rita Teaotia, Union Commerce Secretary, who has ably led the Department of Commerce and has been a source of immense strength and guidance for EEPC India. It was she who labelled us the Model Export Promotion Council and it is our promise to her that we will strive to remain true to the label that she has bestowed on us.

Let me end by welcoming our new Commerce Secretary, Dr Anup Wadhawan. We look forward to working with him and seeking his guidance for carrying out the activities of the Council in the days ahead.

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