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Nirmala Sitharaman elevated to cabinet rank

LiveMint logoLiveMint 03-09-2017 Asit Ranjan Mishra

New Delhi: While the buzz was getting louder that she may be eased out of the Narendra Modi cabinet, an unperturbed commerce and industry minister Nirmala Sitharaman was busy attending the business council meetings led by visiting Switzerland President Doris Leuthard and later posted a video message inviting public comments for the upcoming industrial policy.

On Sunday, Sitharaman was one of the four ministers who were elevated to cabinet rank from the present post of minister of state with independent charge, proving that Prime Minister Modi considers her one of the better performers in his cabinet.

In 2014, when she joined the government as trade minister, she had little experience in the subject except her degree in economics from Jawaharlal Nehru University and strong credentials as a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson.

For India, it was always a problem not to have a cabinet rank minister to handle the high-profile trade ministry portfolio where the minister has to interact with top world leaders and lead delegations to the World Trade Organisation Ministerials. Her new stature may come as a relief for Sitharaman.

The last two years of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government before the 2019 general election will throw many crucial challenges and opportunities for Sitharaman to prove her mettle. At the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations comprising 10 Asean economies and their six trade partners, she faces the tough challenge of championing India’s trade interests at a time other countries are unwilling to open up their markets to Indian professionals.

At the upcoming WTO Ministerial at Buenos Aires in December, Sitharaman will push for a permanent solution on public stockholding for India’s food security as promised by WTO members at the Bali Ministerial in 2012. Experts will be looking for practical and viable solutions to take the country out of the current industrial slump in a new industrial policy which is in the making and scheduled to be released by October.

Sitharaman may also finalise the new Foreign Trade Policy 2020-25, before demitting office in 2019 which will have to go beyond the current subsidy regimes provided to exporters which are not compliant with WTO rules.

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