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Consensus bid on retail foreign direct investment, goods and services tax
May, 29th 2012

The Centre is trying to build "consensus" on several key policies issues like FDI in retail and goods and services tax to strengthen financial markets for long-term investments, Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee said on Sunday.

His comment assumes significance in a situation where ally Mamata Banerjee and SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav are vehemently opposed to retail FDI. "We are working to build a policy consensus on a number of pending issues such as introduction of goods and services tax, further liberalization of FDI, including in retail, deepening and strengthening financial markets for long term investments," Mukherjee said while speaking on "Financial Security and International Interdependence" at a programme organized by the Global India Foundation at a city hotel.

Mulayam, who offers outside support to the UPA but shared the dais with the Prime Minister during the UPA's third anniversary celebrations, has made his anti-FDI stand clear. The SP chief has also praised Mamata for opposing FDI in retail.

But amid charges of a policy paralysis, the petrol price hike has created a buzz that the government may go ahead with pending proposals. As the rupee slides and markets remain jittery, the Centre is trying to push retail FDI and is likely to hold talks with allies soon.

The Union commerce ministry is scheduled to hold a meeting with chief ministers on retail FDI next month. A similar move is also likely between the aviation ministry and the states on foreign airline investment. The Trinamool and the SP are opposed to both.

Then again there is the issue of the GST, on which the Centre is seeking a consensus.

Speaking on the issue of global interdependence, Mukherjee said that "while the level of global economic integration has furthered the degree of interdependence, it has also contributed to uncertainties in the international economy".

He cited the instance of Greece to explain this. "It is not just a matter of country size anymore. Consider the situation in Greece today. Its GDP is about $300 billion, accounting for approximately 0.5% of world output and its public debt is $470 billion or less than 1% of global debt. At least on paper, Greece should not be systemically important for the health of the global economy. Yet, its sovereign debt position has already affected the financial markets. There is serious possibility of contagion spreading to other distressed European economies and through them to the international financial system," Mukherjee said.

The minister felt no country was immune to the financial crisis. But India has been more fortunate in surviving it without major disruptions and has recovered its growth momentum much faster. "The fact that India has not gone through any financial turbulence, as a result of the earlier phase of financial deregulation, is a testimony to our view that reforms in global standards have to be adapted to local conditions," he said, adding this performance could not be taken for granted and that "the global crisis has offered the opportunity to review the approach to financial sector reforms".

But at the same time, Mukherjee said, "the shocks are markers of shifting balance in the global economy, presenting new opportunities for us. India's robust performance in difficult times shows that we could actually come out stronger."

He also spoke on "a new and facilitative National Manufacturing Policy" that was just introduced, "with the objective of taking the share of manufacturing in GDP to 25% creating 100 million new jobs in 10 years".

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