India and Russia on Thursday expressed a desire to move towards formalising a Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) in an attempt to expand trade and investment beyond the traditional strongholds of oil, gas and purchase of defence equipment.

This was decided at a meeting between Union Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma and Russian Minister of Economic Development Elvira Nebullina at St Petersburg on Thursday.

The $20-billion (Rs.90,000 crore) Indian pharmaceutical industry constitutes 40 per cent exports. Keeping this in mind, India and Russia expressed the political intent to move towards CECA.

The Russian side informed that they would first initiate the consultation with their custom partners on the issue, a statement issued here said.

“This economic cooperation can no longer be limited to purchase of defence equipment or investment in oil and gas, although these are highly valued by both countries, but must extend beyond government to government trade and investment,'' Mr. Sharma told his counterpart.

The Commerce and Industry Minister said there was a need for broad-based business cooperation to achieve $20 billion trade target by 2015. In 2009-10, the two-way commerce stood at $4.54 billion. Mr. Sharma took up the market access in Russia for Indian agricultural products. “There is a lot of interest for collaboration in IT and telecom sectors,'' he added.

At the same time, he urged Russia to relax norms for more market access in its pharmaceutical sector to Indian companies. He said considerable scope was available in both countries to enhance trade and investment in the pharmaceutical sector. The visiting Indian Minister outlined specific steps required to be taken in this direction such as, participating in the Pharma 2020 programme of Russia by setting up production units in Russia.

Mr. Sharma is leading a delegation at the three-day St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

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