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Two agencies to be appointed for template on FTA negotiations in future: Suresh Prabhu

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Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu on Friday said that two independent agencies would be appointed for preparing a template to negotiate free trade agreements (FTAs) in future. He said that the country would now have a completely new approach towards negotiating these agreements.

"We are appointing two independent agencies, who will talk to all the is a first major change. This will be a new template which will emerge for all future negotiations and we are working on it," he said here at a function.

The announcement assumes significance as concerns have been raised by industry, exporters and trade experts on FTAs being implemented by India.

They say that these pacts have significantly benefited India's trading partners but not Indian industry. Several sectors, including steel, have demanded that they be removed from the purview of such agreements as these lead to dumping and significant jump in imports.

Under an FTA, two trading partners significantly reduce or eliminate import duties on majority of the goods traded between them. Besides, both countries liberalise norms to promote services trade and attract investments.

India has, so far, implemented such agreements with ASEAN and countries including Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia. Several such pacts are also under negotiations with Australia, New Zealand, European Union, Israel, and proposed 16-member Regional Economic Cooperation Partnership (RCEP).

Serious concerns have been raised on RCEP negotiations with China as one of the member nations. Several ministries, including steel and food processing, have said that the pact would result in flooding of goods from China.

The trade gap with China has increased to USD 63.12 billion in 2017-18, against USD 51.11 billion in the previous financial year. India has trade deficit with 10 RCEP member countries including with South Korea and Australia.

Prabhu said,"while we need FTAs, we make FTAs in a way that it will benefit India to begin with and also other countries. We cannot grow at the expense of India losing and, therefore, we are working on this strategy."

This would also help in promoting the country's outbound shipments, he added.

Talking about trade with the South Asia Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the minister said despite the closeness of the member countries, "our export in SAARC region itself is sub-optimal".

Huge potential exists to boost exports in this region, he said, adding India is trying to work with the neighbouring countries to increase trade.

Birla Copper sees Indian copper demand doubling by 2026

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India's refined copper consumption is set to more than double over the next eight years amid rising demand from the power, auto and consumer sectors, the chief executive of one of the country's top copper smelters said on Thursday.

The nation's consumption of the metal is expected to rise to 1.433 million tonnes by 2026 from 650,000 tonnes in 2018, Birla Copper CEO JC Laddha told delegates at the Asia Copper Conference in Shanghai.

However, he added that this projection did not include the boost copper may receive from a boom in copper-intensive electric vehicles.

"If you add that, I think by 2026 the total consumption would be 2.5 million tonnes," Laddha said. Birla Copper is a unit of Hindalco Industries.

"India's demand for overall copper has risen rapidly over the years and is expected to rise further as a result of various projects like 'Make in India' (and) infrastructure investment," Laddha said.

The government's 'Make in India' initiative is a campaign to boost foreign direct investment into the country.

The nation's refined copper production is set to hit 843,000 tonnes this year, Laddha said, outstripping demand, which is expected to reach 642,000 tonnes.

But following the forced shutdown of Vedanta Ltd's 400,000 tonne per year copper smelter in May, production will shrink to 450,000 tonnes in 2019, versus demand of 700,000 tonnes, he said.

The smelter was closed after the Tamil Nadu state government cut power supply to the unit following violent protests over alleged pollution that resulted in the death of 13 people in police firing.

Vedanta has denied that the plant, India's second biggest copper smelter located in the port city of Thoothukudi, pollutes the area.

Imports from ASEAN countries, Japan and the Middle East are increasing, benefiting from the disruption to supply in India, Laddha said, putting the share of imports at 41 percent currently, versus 28 percent before.

US Treasury's Mnuchin spoke with China Vice Premier Liu He: Report

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US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has resumed discussions with China Vice Premier Liu He, with the two speaking by telephone on Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday, citing sources.

The conversation did not lead to any breakthrough to resolve the tariff dispute between the world's two largest economies, the WSJ reported.

A US Treasury spokesman did not immediately respond to a query about the report.

The development comes as China President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump plan to meet on the sidelines of a G20 summit that is being held in Argentina at the end of November and early December.

Earlier this month, after a phone conversation with Xi, Trump said he thought the United States would make a deal with China on trade but stood ready to levy more tariffs on Chinese goods if no progress is made.

Trump has imposed tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods to pressure Beijing to stop intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers, improve market access for US firms and cut China's high-tech industrial subsidy program - major shifts away from China‘s state-led economic model.

The tariff rate on $200 billion in Chinese goods is set to increase to 25 percent from 10 percent on January 1. Trump has also threatened to impose tariffs on all remaining Chinese imports, about $267 billion worth, if China fails to address US demands.

Mnuchin in October said that China needed to identify concrete "action items" to rebalance the two countries' trade relationship before talks to resolve their disputes could resume.

Average spot power price rises 45% at Rs 5.94/unit in October

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Average spot power price at Indian Energy Exchange (IEX) rose 45.5 percent in October at Rs 5.94 per unit over Rs 4.08 per unit in the year-ago month. IEX witnessed highest ever sales volume of 7,125 million units (MU) during the month due to higher demand, coal shortage, lower wind and hydro power generation.

The average Market Clearing Price (MCP) at Rs 5.94 per unit last month registered 26 percent rise over Rs 4.69 per unit price in September 2018 and 45.5 percent increase over October 2017, an IEX statement said.

According to the statement, power prices and volume remained on the higher side throughout the month due to high demand of power from western, eastern and southern states as well as supply side constraints such as coal shortages, reduced hydro and wind generation affecting the market.

The electricity market at IEX, both Day Ahead Market (DAM) and Term Ahead Market (TAM), traded the highest ever monthly volume of 7,125 MU last month, up 22 percent over 5,829 MU traded in September and higher 63 percent year-on-year.

The average spot power price was highest at Rs 7.30 per unit during evening peak hours from 0600 PM to 1100 PM.

The DAM traded 6,505 MU last month – the highest ever achieved so far in any month, registering an increase of 14 percent month-on-month and 59 percent year-on-year. On daily average basis about 210 MU were traded, the highest during any month.

One Nation, One Price was realised for 17 days at IEX. The DAM experienced transmission congestion of 1 percent mainly in the import towards southern region. On daily average basis, 605 participants traded in the market during the month.

The TAM traded 620 MU in October 2018, registering 5 times increase in volume over previous month and 1.2 times increase over October 2017.

A total of 4,25,289 RECs (Renewable Energy Certificates) were sold in the REC trading session held on October 31 featuring trade of 2,95,010 Non-Solar RECs and 1,30,279 Solar RECs. The trading session saw increase of 24 percent year-on-year and decline of 73 percent month-on-month.

Both Solar and Non-Solar RECs saw reversal in REC demand-supply situation with buy bids exceeding the sell bids. Distribution companies were the major buyers in the session followed by captive and open access consumers.

On October 31, IEX also successfully launched its GST portal for smooth handling of GST collection, invoicing and associated obligations of TCS and TDS related to trade in the REC market.

Cabinet approves MoU between India and Korea in the field of tourism

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The cabinet on Thursday approved the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between India and Korea for strengthening cooperation in the field of tourism, a statement from the government said.

The main objectives of the MoU are to expand bilateral cooperation in tourism, including cooperation in data related to tourism, between tourism stakeholders, including hotels and tour operators, to establish exchange programmes for cooperation in human resource development and encourage investment in the tourism and hospitality sectors.

"India and Korea have enjoyed a strong diplomatic and long economic relationship. The two parties are now desiring to strengthen and further develop the established relationship for strengthening cooperation in the field of tourism," the statement said.

Digit Insurance expects to sell 2.5 lakh policies in October

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Digit Insurance, which has completed a year in operations, has sold 1 million policies in the Indian market. In an interaction with Moneycontrol, Kamesh Goyal, Chairman, Digit Insurance, talks about the business strategy and expansion plans. Excerpts:

Q: Digit has completed a year of operations. Will you continue with the partnership route?

We are more focussed on the partnership model. Depending on the category of the product, these could be auto dealers, OEM tie-ups, web aggregators, travel aggregators as large travel agents. Another major focus area is a partnership with mobile manufacturers and e-commerce firms.

What is the policy run rate currently?

We sell 10,000 products a day (excluding Sundays) and expect to sell 2.5 lakh policies in October. We have crossed 1 million product sales till now.

The company seems to be aggressive on the mobile insurance front. What is the reason?

The focus is on helping partners with a differentiated offering. Screen damages are the most common among mobile phone users.

In case of traditional mobile insurance products, an application is needed to be downloaded. Further, claim settlement can take three weeks. We were given to understand that insurance for screen damage is the biggest requirement. In case of mobile phones, almost 85 percent of customers get advanced cash payment for us. Further, 93 percent of claims get approved within 24 hours.

We establish whether a screen is damaged or not using a diagnostics application. In case of our partnership with Xiaomi, a customer can take it to their authorised service centres and get it repaired free of cost.

The idea is to expand insurance beyond motor and health. For instance, we have launched a household insurance product wherein a customer can insure their homes (and content) for a period when they are on vacation.

Will retail be the bigger focus?

We are doing a huge amount of retail insurance, but are also active in areas like property insurance. We are involved in direct insurance and reinsurance (after the ITI RE acquisition) from other companies.

By the end of the year, we are expecting 2/3rd of the business to come in from retail and a third from crop and property.

You have been absent from the health insurance space. When will the product be launched and will group health be on the list?

We are in the process of launching health insurance. We had a soft launch in October and for the next two to three months, we will test the ability to service the products. Post this, we will launch full-fledged health insurance products.

We want to do any business that is sustainable. Group health losses are still high, though it is primarily government-owned insurers who continue to write business at a loss.

After the funding round in June, what is the expansion plan for this year?

Currently, we are present in 38 cities and will add 6-7 more cities in the near future. By March 31, we will have the entire product suite in place. With the product suite in place, we are also looking at bancassurance tie-ups.

The focus, however, would continue to be on quick claims settlement. We get about 60 motor claims a day. Of this, 95 percent of claims are assessed through the image-based model. Also, 100 percent of our travel claims are automated.

We also track the first time resolution rate very closely. When a customer calls, 62 percent of customer requests are resolved at the call itself. We will seek to further improve this rate.

India tops as Asia's most investment savvy economy: StanChart

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India is Asia's most investment savvy economy and more than two-thirds of the country's affluent class prefer to use various investment products to achieve their financial goals and greater social mobility, says a study.

According to a new Standard Chartered study of 11,000 emerging affluent consumers across Asia, Africa and the Middle East, 68 per cent of Indian people belonging to this segment are using investment products to achieve their financial goals, as compared to an average figure of 57 per cent.

For the purposes of this study ‘investment products' refers to fixed income investments, stocks, equities, mutual funds, unit trusts, investment-linked insurance, self-invested pension funds, real estate investment trusts (REITS) and real estate property funds.

As per the study, the number one financial goal for India's emerging affluents is saving towards their children's education which is also the top savings priority across the markets in the study.

"It is exciting to see that social mobility is booming among the emerging affluents, and that they are outstripping their parents' success in education, careers and home ownership," said Shyamal Saxena, Head - Retail Banking, India, Standard Chartered Bank.

Saxena further noted, "digital financial products are enabling the emerging affluents to achieve their goals, and these tools will be crucial in helping them take their personal financial success to the next level".

The study said, 31 per cent of emerging affluents is selecting mutual funds, a quarter (25 per cent) choosing fixed income investments and 22 per cent equity investments. All figures are higher than the average in the study, which is 16 per cent, 19 per cent and 18 per cent, respectively.

The Emerging Affluent Study 2018– Climbing the Prosperity Ladder– examines the views of emerging affluent consumers – individuals who are earning enough to save and invest – from 11 markets across Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

PCA norms could be aligned to international practices: Banking secy Rajiv Kumar

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The government has hinted at easing of capital requirements by banks reeling under the Reserve Bank of India's (RBI) prompt corrective action (PCA) framework in a bid to "align regulatory norms to international practices".

"There was no easing which was ever required and which should be done. What is being talked about is aligning the PCA framework with best international practices," said Rajiv Kumar, Secretary, Department of Financial Services.

The comments three days after the RBI held its central board meeting on October 23. Economic Affairs Secretary Subhash Chandra Garg and Rajiv Kumar are on the board of RBI to represent the government.

A top finance ministry official had said after the meeting that the government expects "ease in PCA norms" in days to come.

PCA guidelines look at certain parameters to invoke the restrictions. These include capital to risk-weighted asset ratio, net non-performing assets and return on assets.

As per RBI's interpretation of capital requirements, banks are required to maintain a minimum common equity (CET) Tier-I ratio of 5.5 percent of risk-weighted assets. However, as per Basel - III guidelines, banks need to set aside a minimum of 4.5 percent of their assets.

If RBI accepts "aligning" it's regulatory requirements with international practices, banks could see more liquidity at hand.

Banks have strongly pitched for easing the regulatory requirements in order to expand their loan books.

"Bankers have certain expectations. Some of them have said that the PCA guidelines should be revisited because that is indirectly impacting their lending ability," union finance minister, Arun Jaitley had said in September after chairing public sector banks' annual review meeting. Out of 21 PSBs, 11 are under PCA.

Under PCA, banks are prohibited from distributing dividends and remitting profits. They are curtailed from expanding their branch networks while maintaining higher provisions. Management compensation and directors' fees are also capped.

While the government continues to remain optimistic about the ease in the norms, media reports suggest that RBI has rejected the idea.

"The regulator (RBI) has argued that the move has improved the financial health of some of the banks under stress," reports suggested.

Expect policy announcement soon

Kumar, who was speaking on the sidelines of SIDBI National Microfinance Congress 2018, said that the process of recapitalisation of banks is being worked out.

"We are assessing the performance of the banks in second quarter and recapitalisation could happen after this," he said.

The banking secretary also said that the finance ministry could soon make policy announcement to address issues in the financial sector and address the concerns.

"In a week or so, some policy announcement can be expected as things are being worked out," he said.

Saudi Arabia to sign $50 billion in oil, gas, infrastructure deals: Source

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Saudi Arabia plans to sign deals worth more than $50 billion in the oil, gas, industries and infrastructure sectors at an investment conference in Riyadh on Tuesday, a source familiar with the matter said.

The deals will be signed with companies including Trafigura, Total, Hyundai, Norinco, Schlumberger, Halliburton and Baker Hughes, the source said.

The deals will include the establishment of a copper, zinc and lead smelter with Trafigura Group; a joint agreement to build an integrated petrochemical complex and downstream park in the second phase of the SATORP refinery, jointly held by Saudi Arabia's Aramco and Total; and investments in retail gas stations also by Aramco and Total.

Asia petrol buckles under supplies; crack at over two-year low

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Asia's petrol margin fell to more than a two-year low late last week due to ample supplies, and the October average is now expected to be the worst for the month since 2013, based on Thomson Reuters data.

Petrol margins against Brent crude fell 63 percent from the start of the month to $3.04 a barrel on Thursday, the lowest since August 1, 2016, before recovering to $3.55 a barrel on Friday.

However, Friday's bounce was merely a reflection of easing oil prices, rather than a sign of better things to come, trade and industry sources said.

"Weaker demand in Europe and the U.S. have affected the Asian market," said KY Lin, spokesman for Formosa Petrochemical Corp, one of Asia's key exporters of light and middle distillates.

"The commercial operation of Vietnam's new refinery, the resumption of gasoline units in Reliance and Yasref and the announcement of a restart of (UAE's) RFCC (residue fluid catalytic cracker) are also keys to the crash of gasoline margin," Lin added.

Benchmark northwest European gasoline refining margins, for instance, have turned negative and fell to their lowest in seven years last Friday.

Faced with inflated supplies, Europe will ship its gasoline to any market that can absorb the petrol.

At least two ships, the Front Tiger and FPMC P Ideal, carrying a total of 180,000 tonnes of gasoline, are heading for Singapore next month, data from Refinitiv Eikon showed.

But despite the glut, refineries in Asia are unwilling to slash runs this quarter as it is the peak demand season for gasoil and kerosene, the sources said.

"Refiners are unlikely to cut runs as gasoil supplies are tight and demand is good," said a trader who trades middle distillates.

Refinery maintenance, outages and bad weather have disrupted supplies.

Japan's Idemitsu Kosan and Fuji Oil were recently affected by an earthquake and typhoon respectively, while India's Bharat Petroleum Corp Ltd shut a hydrocracker following a fire in August.

"The recent disasters that had hit Japan had given gasoil support due to supply disruptions," said Lin.

With Asia's 10 ppm gasoil cash differential hitting a new high for 2018 on Friday, refiners are expected to look past the high gasoline inventories and instead cash in on the lucrative gasoil premiums at least for now, trade sources said.

"I won't be surprised if we start seeing gasoline being floated on ships next year just like we did in 2016," said a gasoline trader.

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