The International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) Meetings of 7th Expert Groups & 6th Coordination Council

The 7th Meeting of Expert Groups and 6th Meeting of Coordination Council on the International North – South Transport Corridor (INSTC) was held on 19th to 21st August 2015 at Jawaharlal Nehru Bhawan, New Delhi, hosted by India Ministry of External Affairs to review the INSTC Project, participating entire INSTC member states excluding Armenia, Belarus, Oman, Syria and Bulgaria.

During first couple of days and following welcome remarks by the Chair Dr. Guruprasad Mohapatra, joint secretary of department of commerce of India ministry of commerce and industry and Shri Shambhu S. Kumaran, joint secretary of ministry of external affairs of India ministry of external affairs, Mr. Jafar Jamili, deputy director general of border terminals and transit bureau of Iran ministry of roads and urban development and INSTC secretariat in charge brought forward the current status report of the INSTC agreement to the present members, briefing background of the INSTC realizing and the outlined objectives.

He mentioned that currently 10 other members plus one observer have joined the founding members since its formation in 2001, 11 meetings, six in expertise and five in coordination council level, have been held. The secretariat also informed that Kuwait and Afghanistan have requested INSTC membership and over 20 countries are studying the INSTC agreement for membership. The Secretariat also presented a comparative chart reflecting goods volume transported among INSTC members through corridor and from them to the rest of the world, also remarked cargo measure from India transited via Iranian territory as 6256 MT.

In result, he stressed the huge potential for increasing cargo movement. Following Dry Run present by Federation of Freight Forwarders Association of India (FFFAI), all invitees expressed their opinions in line with proceeding due INSTC infrastructures development and reviewed further solutions to remove barriers and consider challenges. In third day, after welcoming remarks by the Chair Dr. Guruprasad Mohapatra and Ms. Rita Teaotia, Commerce Secretary of India and Chair of INSTC Council and Mr. Shri S. Jaishankar, Foreign Secretary, India Ministry of External Affairs, Mr. Jafar Jamili, from INSTC Secretariat briefed the Council on the outcomes of the Expert Groups Meetings and its recommendations. Then heads of delegations of the member states, expressed their analysis of INSTC situation and future perspective. During three days of discussions about the INSTC project, results were as follows: Conclusion 1 There was a necessity to evolve a harmonized procedure for border crossing, customs and documentation to promote and popularize trade in the INSTC corridor. A group of 4 countries i.e. India, Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan would be constituted to take forward discussions. A draft document on the terms of reference would be circulated among the member of the group to enable finalization and focused discussions during the meeting.

Recommendation 1 It was recommended that the group of 4 countries hold a meeting in October-November 2015 and present its findings to the Council in December 2015. The Russian side was requested to host the first meeting of this group in October, 2015. Conclusion 2 Trade on the INSTC route was not restricted to the ports of JNPT and Bandar Abbas. All possible modes and ports of all the member countries should be utilized to promote trade on the INSTC routes. It was further concluded that there was a need to discuss this within the framework of the second Working Group on Commercial and Operational issues.

Recommendation 2 It was recommended that in order to activate the Working Group on Commercial and Operational issues, all member countries nominate a representative from their side to constitute the group and the names be conveyed to INSTC Secretariat by mid-September, 2015. Iran was requested to hold the first meeting of the Working Group in January, 2016 and a report on the findings of the Working Group would be submitted to the Council subsequently. The INSTC Secretariat may decide the terms of reference for the above group and circulate it to the member countries. Conclusion 3 It was concluded that although it was difficult to estimate the projected volume of cargo on the INSTC route, current trade figures with respect to CIS countries, as well as the list of commodities traded, could be shared among INSTC members. Similarly an indicative list of products that could be possibly traded on this route could also be shared. Member countries should also take into account trade potential offered by the South Asian and South-East Asia on the INSTC route in future.

Recommendation 3 All INSTC member countries were requested to provide details of their trade volume and types of cargo with other INSTC member countries for understanding infrastructure and investment requirements on the INSTC route. It was also agreed that information of trade volume and cargo type of CIS countries and South Asian and South East Asian countries be shared for studying additional investments and logistical facilities to be created along the corridor. INSTC Secretariat will devise a format to capture this information and circulate this to the member countries by mid-September, 2015 and member countries are requested to send required information as per the format by mid-October, 2015.

Recommendation 4 It was agreed that the INSTC member countries would facilitate cooperation in banking and insurance sectors for seamless transportation of goods along the INSTC routes. Conclusion 5 The Chair informed that all INSTC member countries have fairly liberal visa regime and suggested that the member countries should focus on further visa liberalization for ease of business movements. Iran suggested that INSTC member countries could consider a unified visa structure and issuance of multiple entry long term business visa for a period of 6 months to 1 years.

Recommendation 5 The Chair proposed that the INSTC member countries could work together for streamlining visa related issues within the proposed Working Group on Commercial and Operational issues. Conclusion 6 It was agreed that India would devise a template highlighting various parameters including tariff, details of ports, railways, freight forwarders, shipping agents, banking, insurance and logistics support by December 2015 for its circulation among member countries for comments/suggestions. Member countries agreed to provide periodical updates of these data for uploading on the website.

Recommendation 6 India, with FFFAI assistance, would devise a template for collation of trade information and circulate to INSTC member countries by December 2015. Conclusion 7 All members agreed to provide details of their Focal Point within two weeks of the receipt of the formal request from the Secretariat through diplomatic channel. The Secretariat provided a template for this information which was agreed upon by the member countries. The template circulated by INSTC Secretariat is at Annexure-III.

Recommendation 7 The nomination of members to constitute the Working Groups on Customs and Commercial & Operational issues would also be coordinated through the focal point. It was also recommended that in future all communications with regard to the INSTC sent by the Council to the member countries through diplomatic channels would also be marked to the designated focal point in each country. Conclusion 8 It was concluded that the Secretariat Council would formally communicate the document to all the member countries and obtain their views, comments and suggestions on it.

Recommendation 8 It was recommended that within the next six months, an Expert Group meeting would be convened to review the progress of the proposed Working Groups on Customs and Commercial & Operational issues as well as conduct negotiations on the draft INSTC Transit document. The Secretariat is requested to decide the venue for the next Experts Group meeting after consultation with member countries. Conclusion 9 It was concluded that the requests for accession to INSTC received from Afghanistan and Kuwait would be shared with the member. It was further agreed that the Council would write to Ukraine and Kyrgyz Republic requesting them to deposit their Instruments of Accession with the Secretariat.

Recommendation 9 It was recommended that the member countries could follow the established process as it had been so far followed in the case of all members, who have joined subsequent to the Agreement. However, this matter may be discussed in the Coordination Council in future. The meeting ended with Vote of Thanks by Director, Department of Commerce, Government of India and the final minute of meeting Signed on 21 August, 2015 in New Delhi, by head of delegation of the INSTC 7th Expert Group Meeting.

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