Strengthening Mauritius’ commerce and investments through trade policy and negotiations

Mauritius will soon benefit substantially from two new trade agreements, one with China and one with India, designed around mutually beneficial partnerships. The agreements seek to strengthen trade in goods and services, commercial cooperation and economic relations.

Australia Alumna, Meenakshi Bappoo–Soobhug, is at the forefront of ensuring that the Mauritius – China Free Trade Agreement (FTA) and the proposed India – Mauritius Comprehensive Economic Cooperation and Partnership Agreement (CECPA) have a positive national impact in Mauritius. 

The FTA, signed in October 2019, is China’s first FTA with an African country and will reportedly give Mauritius duty-free access to approximately 8,547 products, which account for 96 per cent of Chinese tariff lines—significantly improving market access for both countries. China and Mauritius will reach zero tariffs on 96.3% and 94.2% of their tariff items, each representing 92.8% of the import volumes for both countries. Tariffs will be substantially reduced in the remaining Mauritius tariff items and the average tariffs will not exceed 15 percent for most of the goods involved. The key services sectors include trade in goods, trade in services, investment, and economic cooperation. Products such as rum, frozen fish, noodles and pasta are included.

After extensive negotiations, the CECPA is nearly finalised. The agreement seeks to benefit India and Mauritius in the trade of goods, trade in services, investment and general economic cooperation. As the second top source of foreign direct investment (FDI) into India in 2018-19, India received USD 8 billion foreign inflows from the country. The bilateral trade between the countries increased marginally to USD 1.2 billion in 2018-19 from USD 1.1 billion in 2017-18. Tariff concessions on hundreds of items have been negotiated across several sectors including electronic commerce, barriers to trade and sanitary and phytosanitary measures.

Meenakshi was part of the Mauritian delegation for both negotiations. She discussed matters with local stakeholders, including service providers and government ministries, drafted the Schedule of Commitment for India and supported management with her expertise on China’s trade policy.

“Mauritius’ economic and trade relations with India are expected to improve with the agreement providing an appropriate forum for each country to jointly explore more opportunities on the broader African market,” says Meenakshi.

In 2017, shortly after returning from an Australia Awards Trade Policy and Negotiations Short Course delivered by the University of Adelaide, Meenakshi conducted background checks for the CECPA and FTA negotiations to determine what the countries were offering under World Trade Organisation regulations and how accessible the markets were. The core skills and knowledge Meenakshi gained during her short course gave her an in-depth understanding about trade policies, negotiation and scheduling.

In Mauritius’ financial services sector, the insurance industry plays an important role as it is one of the main pillars of the economy, representing one of the engines of growth. The sector has succeeded in generating high value-added employment, giving rise to 15,000 high skills jobs and contributed to government revenues and foreign exchange earnings. In 2019 alone, it contributed around 11.8% of the GDP.

“The assignment I carried out during the short course formed part of my Reintegration Action Plan (RAP). I relied on my RAP during the CECPA negotiations when ensuring market access for the insurance industry,” says Meenakshi. Throughout her studies in Australia, Meenakshi’s soft skills strengthened her work with China and India. It paid off as she was promoted to Assistant Manager.

“The negotiation approaches for both countries were different,” says Meenakshi. “India is an experienced and skilled negotiator, while China’s negotiations are flexible but intensive.” The FTA and CECPA both serve as a model for other African countries willing to improve their trade relations.

Photo Credit: Meenakshi Bappoo–Soobhug

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