Government steps in to tackle Russian trade hurdles

Jaishankar does not rule out reviving rupee-rouble trade

Updated - March 24, 2022 10:53 pm IST

Published - March 24, 2022 09:21 pm IST - NEW DELHI

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar speaks in the Rajya Sabha on March 24, 2022.

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar speaks in the Rajya Sabha on March 24, 2022. | Photo Credit: PTI

The government has convened a multi-Ministerial group to look into how to overcome challenges in trade with Russia, including managing payments for exporters and importers, External Affairs Minister (EAM) S. Jaishankar said in Parliament on Thursday, in comments that indicate a possible revival of “Rupee-Rouble trade” in the wake of economic sanctions against Russian banks and entities by more than 40 U.S. and European allies.

Answering a number of queries during Question Hour in the Rajya Sabha on India’s stand on Russia and Ukraine, including some that raised concerns over India’s abstentions at the United Nations and the impact of Indian policy on India’s trade and ties with the U.S., Mr. Jaishankar said that India’s position is “for peace” and that foreign policy decisions are made in “Indian national interest”.

To a specific question from Naresh Gujral (Shiromani Akali Dal) on whether the government would reactivate rupee trade, or trading in local currencies with Russia, Mr. Jaishankar said that, “because of the emerging problems in dealing with Russia, [the] government is examining various aspects, including the payment aspect”.

“There is a group within the government composed of different Ministries. It is led by the Finance Ministry to examine these matters,” Mr. Jaishankar added. To a question on purchasing more Russian oil, Mr. Jaishankar said India’s oil imports from Russia at present are “very little”.

Mr. Jaishankar also responded to a question from Jose K. Mani (Kerala Congress-M), who referred to U.S. President Joe Biden’s statement that India’s support on sanctions was “somewhat shaky” amongst Quad partners, as well as a question from Swapan Dasgupta of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who asked whether there would be any “negative impact” on India’s relations with its “closest allies”.

“Indian foreign policy decisions are made in Indian national interest and we are guided by our thinking, our views and our interests. So, there is no question of linking the Ukraine situation to issues of trade,” Mr. Jaishankar said. In a statement laid before the House, the EAM said that India’s position has been “steadfast and consistent”, and India has repeatedly called for the immediate cessation of violence and end to all hostilities. He said that between February 24, when Russia launched operations on Ukraine, and March 7, when the last few flights bringing Indian citizens from Ukraine back to India returned, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had spoken thrice to Russian President Vladimir Putin and twice to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, urging a return to talks, and calling for a “direct conversation” between both Presidents.

The comments by the EAM come even as a number of countries in the sanctions regime against Russia have sent delegations to New Delhi to try and shift India’s position on votes at the United Nations, with some seeking to limit Indian purchases of Russian oil reportedly being offered at discounted prices.

After back-to-back summit meetings with Japan and Australia, the government hosted senior U.S. official Victoria Nuland, and the Foreign Ministers of Austria, Greece and Oman this week. Next week, the European Union’s special envoy on the Indo-Pacific, Gabriele Visentin, Mexican Foreign Minister Marcello Ebrard and U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will also travel to India.

“In our conversations with global leaders at the highest levels, we have emphasised to all member states of the UN that the global order is anchored on international law, the UN Charter, and respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of States,” Mr. Jaishankar told Parliament.

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