GS PAPER II
Reboot to reset
Why in News
- As per indications from the USA administration, India’s largest trading partner, and one with whom it has a significant trade surplus, the U.S., is no longer interested in securing a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA).
- An official acknowledgement from Commerce Ministry, years of negotiations towards a ‘mini-trade deal’ followed by a full-blown trade pact that Mr. Biden’s predecessor oversaw may well be infructuous now.
- The Government will now seek to work on market access issues on both sides, adding that lowering of non-tariff barriers, mutual recognition pacts and adopting common quality standards can also help Indian exports in the interim.
- There is a possibility that even these issues, which include long-festering dissonances over providing access to U.S. agricultural products or easing import duties on automobiles and Bourbons, would have to be discussed afresh.
- Recently, the U.S. envoy met India met for parley on attaining the $500 billion bilateral trade vision of the U.S. President.
- The trade target, set when Mr. Biden was the Vice President in the Barack Obama regime, remains unchanged, but the tools for achieving it are no longer clear.
- India was pulled out of the U.S.’s Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) that granted some tariff relief to its exports by the Trump government in 2019, and hopes of its reinduction through a mini-trade deal now appear bleak.
- While India was expected to gain from the Sino-U.S. trade wars under the Donald Trump administration, its retaliation to the GSP status revocation with hiked tariffs on U.S. products had led to frictions that perhaps stymied the conclusion of a mini-trade deal before the change at the helm in the White House.
Indo-US in Free Trade Agreement (FTA)
- The U.S.’s no-go stance on the FTA implies ambitions may have to be pared down but also provides an opportunity for India to holistically review its stance on global trade.
- It is refreshing that Finance Minister has signaled a revamped approach towards FTAs and reminded Indian industry there cannot be one-way traffic.
- This needs to be matched by actions that start unwinding India’s creeping walls of import tariffs.
- The Atmanirbhar Bharat campaign has further exacerbated that view, as the advent of a protectionist ‘closed market’ project.
- Strenuous exhortations that the self-reliance drive is one that seeks to integrate with global value chains can only go so far.
- Trade policy cannot be perpetuated in isolation and, in fact, affects investments too.
- Having walked out of RCEP, India needs to demonstrate to its potential FTA partners, including the EU and the U.K., with which rivals like Vietnam have already sealed a deal, that it is a viable alternative to China in a post-COVID world.
- To be a major trading and manufacturing nation, India can ill-afford to keep sending mixed signals.
GS PAPER II
Faith and marriage
Why in news
- A regressive and patently unconstitutional feature of recent anti-conversion laws enacted by different States is the criminalization of inter-faith marriages by treating them as a means to convert one of the parties from one religion to another.
- While anti-conversion laws, euphemistically called in some States as laws on ‘freedom of religion’, have always sought to criminalize conversions obtained through fraud, force or allurement, the recent enactments or amendments have created “conversion by marriage” as one of the illegal forms of conversion.
- In its interim order protecting parties to inter-religious marriages from needless harassment, the Gujarat HC has made it clear that the “rigours” of the State’s amendments introduced earlier this year will not apply to marriages that do not involve any fraud, force or allurement.
- So, it has stopped the initiation of criminal proceedings against those who have married across religious faiths, unless there was any of these illegal elements.
Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021
- A Bench has rejected the State government’s attempt to adopt an innocent reading of the provisions of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Act, 2021, by claiming that inter-faith marriages that did not involve fraud or coercion and leading to conversion would not attract the penal provisions.
- The argument is obviously contrary to the wording of the amendment, which makes conversion “by marriage” or “by getting a person married” or “by aiding a person to get married” an offence.
- The court said, “A plain reading of Section 3 would indicate that any conversion on account of marriage is also prohibited.”
- It is regrettable that Hindutva votaries continue to believe in medieval-minded laws aimed at curbing inter-faith marriages.
- Despite clear Supreme Court rulings that it is no more constitutional to police private lives and beliefs, sections in the polity still believe that inter-religious marriages are aimed at religious conversion, that they have an adverse impact on public order and invariably involve coercion or deceit.
- It was always clear to the secular minded and legal experts that constitutional courts will not see such marriages as events that impinge on public order, and that making their solemnization a ground for prosecution under anti-conversion laws was unlikely to be upheld.
- It is clear that the Gujarat law’s provisions “interfere with the intricacies of marriage” and an individual’s right to choose, thereby infringing Article 21 of the Constitution.
- The principle that the right to marry a person of one’s choice is integral to Article 21 flows from the verdict in Shafin Jahan vs Asokan.
- The order stalling criminal action against those entering into a valid inter-faith marriage constitutes a significant judicial pushback against disconcerting attempts by various States to foment communal divides through dubious legislation.