August 2018
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[op-ed snap] Can regional trade agreements boost India’s exports?

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional & global groupings & agreements involving India &/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: RCEP, WTO

Mains level: The problem with multilateral agreements and what India needs to do to gain most from them


Context

Demand for India to join multilateral agreements

  1. As the World Trade Organization (WTO) comes under mounting attack from the Trump-led US administration, there is a clamour in India to negotiate regional trade agreements with peer countries
  2. It is perceived that this will boost exports and insulate India’s trade from the uncertainties of the global trading system

Are multilateral agreements really beneficial for India?

  1. An analysis of trade agreements suggests that India has often failed to gain from such agreements
  2. This could explain why Indian policymakers have become cautious about pursuing new trade agreements in recent years

History of trade agreements

  1. The rise of regional trade agreements (RTAs) globally coincided with the end of the Uruguay round of WTO talks in the mid-1990s
  2. Their growth has often been explained as a result of slow progress in multilateral negotiations
  3. RTAs include both preferential trade agreements and free trade agreements (FTAs)

Criticism of RTAs

  1. RTAs face criticism for being detrimental to the spirit of multilateral free trade
  2. This is because countries that are not part of a regional agreement find themselves at a disadvantage
  3. This is especially true in an era of rising protectionism and uncertainty

Solution: Trade blocs

  1. It is possible to address such issues to some extent by creating mega-trading blocs
  2. One such bloc being negotiated is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), consisting of China, India, Japan, south-east Asian nations, Australia and New Zealand

Scope for India

  1. There might be scope for India to increase its trade with the Asia-Pacific region, given that its level of integration with the region is relatively low
  2. But India has remained ambivalent about the RCEP, with officials expressing concern that it might actually harm India

The reason behind India’s concerns

  1. India’s existing agreements with South Korea, Japan and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) are often deemed to have benefited the partner countries at India’s expense
  2. India has not been able to sufficiently leverage these agreements to increase its presence in the markets of its partners
  3. The import-export ratio with these countries deteriorated in the years following the implementation of the trade agreements
  4. Even as partner countries have benefited, Indian exports to these regions have remained lacklustre

The actual reason for fewer gains from RTAs

  1. India’s inability to gain market share in these regions may be partly explained by its lack of competitiveness in exports
  2. India has various structural bottlenecks hurting its exports

Way Forward

  1. The focus needs to be on where India can promote its exports
  2. India needs to be careful in weighing each trade deal on its own merit
Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)

[op-ed snap] A Law Past Its Sell-by Date

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Issues relating to development & management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act

Mains level: Changes required in abortion law in India in order to make abortions safe as well as improve health of women


Context

Abortion law in India

  1. Abortion has been legal in India under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act since 1971 when it was hailed as one of the more progressive laws in the world
  2. According to the Act, abortion can be provided at the discretion of a medical provider under certain conditions
  3. Though the Act was liberal for its time, it has limitations that pose barriers to women and girls seeking legal abortions

Objectives of the law

  1. To control the population resulting from unintended pregnancies (which even today are to the tune of 48 per cent)
  2. To reduce the increasing maternal mortality and morbidity due to illegal, unsafe abortions

What are the barriers in the law?

  1. Currently, the Act allows abortion up to 20 weeks
  2. When it comes to foetal abnormalities and pregnancies resulting from rape, this limit is proving to be a hurdle for both the woman and the provider
  3. Women seeking an abortion after the legal gestation limit (a phenomenon that is fairly common due to later detection of abnormalities in the foetus or shame and stigma associated with rape), often have no option but to appeal to the courts and run from pillar to post for permission to terminate the pregnancy

What does this lead to?

  1. Many women, when denied legal abortions, turn to unqualified providers or adopt unsafe methods of termination
  2. According to a study published in The Lancet recently, 15.6 million abortions took place in India in 2015 out of which about 11.5 million took place outside health facilities
  3. Estimates based on the Sample Registration System (SRS) 2001-03, indicate that unsafe abortions account for 8 per cent of maternal deaths in India

Amendments returned back

  1. In 2014, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare recognised these barriers and proposed certain amendments to the Act
  2. It proposed various changes key amongst which were increasing the gestation limit from 20 to 24 weeks for rape survivors and other vulnerable women and removing the gestation limit in the case of foetal abnormalities
  3. In 2017, these amendments were returned to the ministry with the mandate to strengthen the implementation of the MTP Act as it stands

Way Forward

  1. We are living in times when abortion is at the centre of global conversations on reproductive health and rights
  2. Adopting and implementing the amendments will take us a few steps closer towards ensuring that all girls and women have access to safe abortion services
Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

Caspian Sea breakthrough treaty set to boost oil, pipeline plans

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: IR | Effect of policies & politics of developed & developing countries on India’s interests.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Caspian Sea Bordering States

Mains level: Changing dynamics of Caspian neighbouring states


News

Consensus over Caspian Sea

  1. Five Caspian Sea states (Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan) reached a breakthrough agreement on sovereign rights to the sea.
  2. This paved the way for new oil and gas extraction and pipelines after more than two decades of disputes.
  3. The treaty ends a spat over whether the Caspian is a sea or a lake, granting it special legal status and clarifying the maritime boundaries of each surrounding country.
  4. The five members have tried to define the Caspian Sea’s legal status since the collapse of the Soviet Union, in order to divide up the waters and its natural resources for new drilling and pipelines.
  5. It also allows each to lay pipelines offshore with consent only from the neighbouring states affected, rather than from all Caspian Sea nations.

Huge energy reserves

  1. The territorial disputes have prevented the exploration of at least 20 billion barrels of oil and more than 240 trillion cubic feet of gas, the US Energy Information Administration estimated in 2013.
  2. The new agreement states that the development of seabed reserves will be regulated by separate deals between Caspian nations, in line with international law.
  3. This essentially cements the current situation, since countries such as Kazakhstan and Russia already have bilateral accords on joint projects

Connecting to Europe

  1. The five Caspian Sea nations already develop offshore oil and gas reserves that are located near enough to the coast not to be disputed.
  2. Projects in the northernmost waters Kazakhstan’s giant Kashagan field and Russia’s Filanovsky and Korchagin deposits are seen as sources of future oil-output growth for the countries.
  3. The treaty will also remove a legal barrier to building a trans-Caspian gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to Europe.
  4. While the European Union and Azerbaijan have supported the long-planned pipeline project, which could ease Russia’s grip on the EU’s gas market, the Kremlin has opposed it, citing environmental concerns and legalities.

Outstanding Issues

  1. Iran shares smallest boundary with Caspian Sea hence is the least gainer.
  2. It highlighted the issue of the distribution rights of seabed oil and gas deposits over the undiscovered fields.
Foreign Policy Watch- India-Central Asia

India releases additional funds for Nepal’s Postal Highway

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: IR | Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Postal Highway Project

Mains level:  India-Nepal Bilateral Relationship


News

Context

  1. The Government has released additional NPR 470 million for the Postal Highway being constructed in Southern Plains of Nepal.
  2. The amount has been released to maintain fund liquidity for the ongoing construction of 14 road packages under Postal Highway Project.

Postal Highway Project

  1. Postal Highway also called Hulaki Rajmarg runs across the Terai region of Nepal, from Bhadrapur in the east to Dodhara in the west, cutting across the entire width of the country.
  2. Since 1950, the Government of India has been supporting infrastructure development of Nepal.
  3. India has provided financial assistance for construction of various highways, roads, bridges, airports, etc as part of its multi-sectoral and multi-dimensional India-Nepal Economic Cooperation Programme.
  4. With this payment, a total of NPR 2.35 billion stands released to the Government of Nepal out of the total grant assistance of NPR 8.00 billion committed by the Government of India.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Nepal

FSSAI unveils initiative to collect, convert used cooking oil into biofuel

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: RUCO

Mains level: Harnessing edible oils for biofuel production


News

Repurpose Used Cooking Oil (RUCO)

  1. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) launched RUCO (Repurpose Used Cooking Oil), an initiative that will enable collection and conversion of used cooking oil to bio-diesel.
  2. The initiative has been launched nearly a month after the food safety regulator notified standards for used cooking oil.
  3. FSSAI may also look at introducing regulations to ensure that companies that use large quantities of cooking oil hand it over to registered collecting agencies to convert it into biofuel.
  4. Under this initiative, 64 companies at 101 locations have been identified to enable collection of used cooking oil.
  5. For instance: McDonald’s has already started converting used cooking oil to biodiesel from 100 outlets in Mumbai and Pune.

Cooking Oil can be harnessed as biofuel

  1. The regulator believes India has the potential to recover 220 crore litres of used cooking oil for the production of biodiesel by 2022 through a co-ordinate action.
  2. While biodiesel produced from used cooking oil is currently very small, but a robust ecosystem for conversion and collection is rapidly growing in India and will soon reach a sizable scale.
  3. FSSAI wants businesses using more than 100 litres of oil for frying, to maintain a stock register and ensure that UCO is handed over to only registered collecting agencies.
  4. According to FSSAI regulations, the maximum permissible limits for Total Polar Compounds (TPC) have been set at 25 per cent, beyond which the cooking oil is unsafe for consumption.

Collaborating with private players

  1. FSSAI is also working in partnership with Biodiesel Association of India and the food industry to ensure effective compliance of used cooking oil regulations.
  2. It is also going to publish guidance documents, tips for consumers and posters in this regard.
  3. It is also conducting several awareness campaigns through its e-channels.
  4. FSSAI has additionally launched a micro-site to monitor the progress of the collection and conversion of used cooking oil into biodiesel.
Biofuel Policy

NPCI launches UPI 2.0 with overdraft facility

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Governance | Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: UPI 2.0

Mains level: Measures for facilitating cashless transactions.


News

Unified Payments Interface (UPI) 2.0

  1. National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI) has upgraded unified payments interface (UPI) with enhanced security features and overdraft facilities.
  2. In addition to current and savings accounts, customers can link their overdraft account to UPI.
  3. The UPI mandate could be used in a scenario where money is to be transferred later by providing commitment at present.

Back2Basics

National Payments Corporation of India (NPCI)

  1. NPCI is the umbrella organisation for all retail payment systems in India which aims to allow all Indian citizens to have unrestricted access to e-payment services.
  2. Founded in 2008, NPCI is a not-for-profit organisation registered under section 8 of the Companies Act 2013.
  3. The organisation is owned by a consortium of major banks, and has been promoted by the country’s central bank, the Reserve Bank of India.
  4. Its recent work of developing Unified Payments Interface aims to move India to a cashless society with only digital transactions.
  5. It has successfully completed the development of a domestic card payment network called RuPay, reducing the dependency on international card schemes.
  6. The RuPay card is now accepted at all the ATMs, Point-of-Sale terminals and most of the online merchants in the country.
  7. UPI is a path breaking innovation that is unprecedented globally. Its high volume, low cost and highly scalable architecture built on an open source platform is key to India’s transformation to a digital payment economy.
  8. The first version of UPI was launched on April 11, 2016 and in the last two years the platform has emerged as a popular choice among users for sending and receiving money.
Cashless Society – Digital Payments, Demonetization, etc.

[pib] Appellate Tribunal for Electricity (APTEL)

Note4students

Mains Paper 2: Indian Polity | Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: APTEL

Mains level:  Read the attached story


News

Context

Justice Manjula Chellur took Oath as Chairperson, Appellate Tribunal for Electricity, Ministry of Power.

Appellate Tribunal for Electricity (APTEL)

  1. On 10th June, 2003, the Electricity Act was notified by the Govt. of India.
  2. A/c to this act, Appellate Tribunal for Electricity has been established by Central Government for those who are not satisfied with the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission order or with a state.
  3. The Tribunal has the authority to overrule or amend that order, just like the Income-Tax tribunal or the Central Administrative Tribunal.
  4. The tribunal has to be approached within 45 days of the aggrieved person from getting the order.
  5. The Act extends to the whole of India except the state of Jammu & Kashmir.
Judiciary Institutional Issues