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India, Russia, China uniting on rising protectionism, WTO reforms at SCO

Subhayan Chakraborty/New Delhi 13 Jun 19 | 12:12 AM

Creating a global front against rising protectionism, reforming the World Trade Organization (WTO) and boosting trade, investments will dominate the agenda, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi begins his visit to Kyrgyzstan for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit, on Wednesday.

After focusing on terrorism and defence in 2018, Modi is expected to discuss the ongoing trade war and pitch for greater economic cooperation with Russia and China in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek on June 13-14, senior government officials said.

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While the government hasn't confirmed whether Modi will be meeting Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, separate bilateral meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin will push for trilateral economic cooperation.

The SCO is a political, economic, and security alliance of eight nations, historically led by Russia and China. The summit is considered a key platform for central Asian geopolitics as four nations from the region — Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan are members. Both India and Pakistan officially joined the SCO as full members in 2017.

But the summit may see New Delhi hard pressed to steer clear of discussing China’s flagship Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project, which has promised immense economic growth to landlocked central Asian nations. Beijing has already invested more than $200 billion, according to New York-based Council on Foreign Relations.

Fighting silk route

China may push India to come to the discussion table on the BRI, despite India continuing to denounce the project. New Delhi has stressed that the BRI plan violates its sovereignty, with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) passing through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

After India boycotted the BRI summit for the second time in a row, Beijing has apparently sought to address India’s concerns. Back in April, Chinese President Xi Jinping said the project was not an “exclusive club" and support from other major economic powers was essential to the commercial and fiscal sustainability of all projects.

Trade with Russia

Three of the participating members at the summit — Russia, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan — are also part of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), an integrated single market of 183 million people. The bloc has pushed for a Free Trade Agreement with India since 2015 and a joint research group submitted its analysis in 2016.

Diplomatic sources said priority investment projects in the spheres of mining, metallurgy, power, oil and gas, railways and pharmaceuticals sectors, which had been jointly agreed since then, may find a place in the joint press communique issued after Modi meets with Putin on the sidelines of the SCO Summit. “Both sides have struggled to keep up trade growth in line with targeted projections of $30 billion both ways trade by 2025, a senior Commerce Department official said.

India needs Russia’s active support for the International North South-Transport Corridor (INSTC) as a result. To jumpstart trade, India has leveraged the multi-nation trade route built by it, running from Iran to Russia. However, more than a year after being launched, the INSTC, has remained a dud, freight 

forwaders said.

Developed by India to cut shipment time for container cargo, it is expected to widen India’s exports to more than 15 nations. Goods are offloaded at Chabahar port in southern Iran, and moved through the Iranian desert and highlands of Azerbaijan to reach the Astrakhan port in Russia, enroute to Europe.

But US President Donald Trump administration’s sanctions on Iran, few banking facilities, and a cheaper alternative trade route through Turkey has threatened the route, government officials say.

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