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Jobs galore ahead of festive season; 15,000 e-commerce openings up for grabs

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Around 15,000 jobs are up for grabs as e-commerce companies in India look to increase their manpower for last-mile delivery before the festive season begins.

From August to January, when India celebrates a range of festivals, including Raksha Bandhan, Ganesh Chaturthi, Id-e-Milad, Diwali, Christmas and New Year, e-commerce companies sell goods worth around Rs 10,000 crore. The sector currently employs around 1 million people.

Sources said that the large e-commerce firms like Amazon and Flipkart have already begun large-scale hiring to meet the festive demand. A large proportion of the hires could be in the warehousing and delivery segments.

After reassessing the demand again at the end of September, these companies would have a second look at their manpower and hire additional staff, especially delivery executives, if necessary.

For those wanting to apply for delivery executives' posts, basic knowledge of English, knowing the local language and knowing how to ride a motorcycle would largely be the requirements.

Mayur Saraswat, Business Head (North), TeamLease Services, said that there will be a jump of 30-35 percent in manpower during the festive season.

"This is a golden era for e-commerce and the sector will touch $ 200 billion by 2022. A lot of demand from Tier 2,3 as well as rural areas will drive the jobs," Saraswat said.

With the rise in demand of products and the increase in sales during the later months of the year, salaries have also gone up.

Saraswat said that unlike a year and a half ago, when delivery executives were getting paid around Rs 8,000 a month, they are now getting paid around Rs 18,000 a month.

During the festive months, incentives, including bonuses, gift coupons and spot rewards for meeting targets are also provided to delivery executives.

This is also because the rate of attrition in this segment is much higher and touches 40-45 percent during busy months, primarily because companies actively poach from each other.

Local hiring could also be boosted during the festive season, since cash-on-delivery has increased the overall proportion of purchases from rural areas.

Unlike in other sectors, where robotics has taken away jobs, Saraswat said that getting robots to the shop floor in areas like warehousing during sale-heavy festive seasons will lead to better efficiency and positive margins, thereby pushing salaries higher.

Going forward, he said that new partnerships like Flipkart-Walmart would also add to the number of new jobs available in the sector.

The jobs that are currently on offer include both temporary and permanent positions. The temporary staff numbers will be higher, since they work only for 5-6 months.

LIC banks on 'crisis manager' VK Sharma to steer IDBI

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When Karnal, a region in Haryana beat even metro centres to collect the highest premiums for Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) in the late 90’s, all the senior management at the insurance behemoth sat up and took notice. Behind this was a senior divisional manager called Vijay Kumar Sharma. More than 20 years later, LIC will buy controlling stake in a large public sector lender. The man behind the deal is the same; this time he happens to be the LIC chairman.

The Cabinet Committee of Economic Affairs (CCEA) on Wednesday approved LIC’s proposal to own controlling stake in state-owned IDBI Bank. The move paves way for LIC to acquire 51 percent in the public sector bank consequently taking the government's stake down from the current 80.96 percent to around 45 percent.

When several questions over the deal and LIC's ability to help the bank clear out its non-performing assets arose, company insiders said Sharma was convinced that it would be a good investment opportunity. In fact, Sharma, who turns 60 this year, was among the first at LIC to dream of a banking licence as early as 2013 as the chief of LIC Housing Finance.

It was Sharma’s conviction that led to the proposal reaching the insurance regulator’s table. After getting a green signal from Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI), a go-ahead from the cabinet was the next step. With all the major hurdles cleared, it is only a matter of a few months that IDBI Bank will be a subsidiary of LIC.

Early days at LIC

‘Go-getter’ is a term that peers associate the 59-year-old who has spent 37 years at the insurer. A postgraduate in Botany from Patna University, Sharma joined LIC as a direct recruit in 1981. He moved across the country studying LIC’s different businesses and zonal business strategies, working his way up the ladder in areas spanning pension, group schemes and zonal operations.

In 2007, he was elevated to the rank of executive director. The country was grappling with the lack of social security schemes and the Aam Aadmi Bima Yojana was launched for rural landless households. LIC was given the mandate for managing the project and Sharma led the charge.

Sharma soon took the role of LIC’s zonal manager in-charge of the southern zone, and was able to turnaround the operations and make it the number one zone in terms of business in 2010.

Move to LIC Housing Finance

Sharma took charge of LIC Housing Finance, as Director and Chief Executive in December 2010. He was elevated to the post of Managing Director and CEO in March 2013. Considered an internal favourite, peers said that Sharma was an easy choice for the top post.

This was a time when LIC Housing Finance was facing competition from large financial companies in the home loan segment. When he took over, LIC’s loan book was around Rs 46,400 crore. Under his leadership, this jumped by 80 percent to Rs 83,200 crore by mid-FY14.

Till then, LIC HFL was considered a traditional player. Sharma took on the mandate of re-branding the entity and also improve the technological efficiencies of the entity. Under him, LIC HFL’s net-worth more-than-doubled from Rs 3,390 crore from Q2FY11 to Rs 6,828 crore in Q2FY14 just before he moved back to LIC.

Sharma’s aspirations also grew larger. He wanted LIC HFL to become a bank. They did apply for a licence but were not granted permission to start banking operations.

Back to home turf

Sharma was appointed as LIC’s managing director in November 2013. Looking at the business strategies of the insurance company, he pushed the initiatives of financial inclusion and insurance products for BPL families.

Less than three years since Sharma took up the MD post, a mini-crisis hit LIC. In June 2016, S K Roy resigned from the LIC chairman citing ‘personal concerns’ two years before completing his tenure. Amid a volatile situation, Sharma was made the officiating chairman to assuage investor concerns.

Being one of the largest investors in the equity markets with about Rs 50,000 crore being pumped into the equity markets every year, a ‘headless’ LIC was not seen as a positive cue. Sharma was brought in to cool off the uncertainties that arose from Roy stepping down.

Turnaround of LIC

At the close of FY15, new business premium collections at LIC dropped 14 percent, whereas private life insurers had seen a growth of 18 percent. Questions were raised on the relevance of LIC in the market and whether it was losing steam in the wake of aggressive competition from private peers.

Sharma officially took over as LIC chairman in December 2016 and proved critics and doubting Thomases wrong. The insurance company ended FY17 with a 27 percent growth in premiums, beating the private sector peers. The message was clear: LIC is not losing out soon.

But company executives said that Sharma always regretted the fact that they weren’t granted a banking licence. Around the same time, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had said that they were open to considering a process of on-tap licences for interested entities. So all hopes were not lost.

PIL against LIC

Being a large entity, the decisions of LIC to invest in companies like ITC have been questioned. A public interest litigation was filed in the Bombay High Court saying that LIC being a life insurance company should not be investing in tobacco firms.

Sharma defended the move saying this was a purely investment decision and that they have been investing in companies across sectors.

Another area where Sharma has been prodded constantly is the perception that LIC is the bailout agency of the government. Be it large public issues by state-owned entities or any disinvestment in government entities, LIC has been a large player in such instances.

Sharma, however, has consistently maintained that these are independent decisions by LIC based on the merits of the investee company. Meanwhile, outsiders maintain that most of the decisions are still dictated by the government.

LIC has often been considered opaque with respect to investment decisions. While Sharma has made statements on a few occasions about them investing into certain sectors, a more transparent approach would be a welcome change. Until then, questions will loom large on the exact reasons why LIC buys a large chunk in all government-led company investments.

IDBI takes centre-stage

Early in FY19, a proposal had floated about IDBI Bank being put on sale. The government, on one hand, was looking to reduce its stake in the bank. On the other hand, sources said that they wanted to ensure that the bank was in good hands.

As various structures and instruments were being discussed, LIC entered the fray. It was the much needed second chance for LIC to own a banking entity and acquiring a large bank meant that they did not have to start from scratch.

LIC unions, on the other hand, have questioned the move. A senior union member said that this would mean that LIC is indirectly recapitalising an ailing bank. The unions have also maintained that this is detrimental to the policyholders, since the IDBI Bank buy is being made out of the premium money collected.

"Sharma should have first brought all stakeholders on board, especially the unions, before making the proposal official. Without this, there is bound to be tough protests," said a senior company executive.

While Sharma believed that the IDBI Bank deal was a ‘win-win’ proposition for both LIC, the policyholders as well as the government; not everyone is convinced especially since IDBI Bank has issues of large bad loan. Unlike his predecessors who would not be very vocal about their decisions, his peers said that Sharma ensures that he is firm with his decisions, irrespective of whether everyone supports him or not.

Private insurers have also suggested that LIC still gets preferential treatment and has been granted exceptions over and above the 15 percent investment limit. However, Sharma has defended this by saying that they are a large entity.

All the past LIC chairman have talked about the legacy of the institution and how it is distinct from the private sector peers, Sharma for the first time assured the market that they will bring down the stake in all entities to the 15 percent threshold.

While this may not be the perfect solution, it has brought some temporary calm to the private sector.

Will IDBI Bank see a turnaround?

For the IDBI Bank deal, with the cabinet nod coming in, the last few procedural approvals from Securities and Exchange Board of India as well as RBI will be the last leg of the deal. Sharma, who still has three more years as chairman will be the sole responsible person for the bank’s turnaround as well.

IDBI Bank’s net loss for the March quarter of FY18 widened to Rs 5,662.76 crore year-on-year (YoY) on weakening asset quality and rise in provisions. During the quarter under review, IDBI Bank's provisions for non-performing assets rose by 77.9 percent to Rs 10,773.30 crore as against Rs 6,054.39 crore in the year-ago period.

A man who is called ‘crisis manager’ by his LIC colleagues, Sharma will have to do a repeat of his past successes, and bring down the bad loans and get the bank back on track on the profitability front. How soon will he be able to do it? This is an answer that the market is seeking with a baited breath.

ASSOCHAM cautions against over-regulation in e-commerce space

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Over-regulation of the e-commerce sector could stifle the growth of entrepreneurship, industry body ASSOCHAM has said and cautioned micro managing of prices by the government could lead to inspector-raj.

E-commerce and the entire online space is a fledgling area of business with a vast scope for expansion, ASSOCHAM Secretary General D S Rawat said.

"While there should be rules of the game for any trade, over-reach and over-regulation should not be resorted to as it could stifle the growth of entrepreneurship," he told PTI.

An initial draft circulated among stakeholders for discussion to frame a national e-commerce policy has suggested to introduce a pre-set timeframe for offering differential pricing or deep discounts by e-commerce players to customers.

The suggestions are part of the strategy to address anti-competitive issues in the e-commerce sector effectively.

"The restriction imposed on e-commerce marketplace, to not directly or indirectly influence the price of goods and services, would be extended to group companies of the e-commerce marketplace.

"A sunset clause, which defines the maximum duration of differential pricing strategies (such as deep discounts) that are implemented by e-commerce platforms to attract consumers, would be introduced," the draft said.

Rawat said: "Deep discount or no discount is a commercial decision; as long as it is not resorted to in sectors like banking, insurance or other highly sensitive sectors, the decision should be purely commercial".

Besides, he said the deep discount and cash burning should be the prime concern of the promoters, venture capitalists and private equity funds betting on online entrepreneurs.

"Eventually, those with sound business models would survive; there would be churning, which has already started," Rawat said.

No micro managing of prices or other business practices should be encouraged; or else it could lead to inspector-raj in the cyber and online world as well, he added.

Coal India to procure mining equipment in three years

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The Coal India has decided to procure mining equipment worth USD two billion through global tender over the next three years to ramp up coal production to meet the growing demand.

"We'll procure mining equipment of Rs 12,000-13,000 crore in the next three years," Coal India Chairman Anil Kr Jha said here yesterday. He said this year contracts worth Rs 4000-5000 crore could be placed with the vendors.

Jha said that he desired that PSUs to bid for contracts and expected that they would match international parameters. The Coal India has set a target of producing 630 million tonnes in 2018-19 and one billion tonne in the next three to four years.

The CILs productivity per man each shift has been much below than international benchmark of 13 tonnes per man shift, he said adding that the Coal Ministry had asked the miner to follow the international parameters in cost of production, quality, grade, equipment performance, unit cost of production and environmental concerns.

"We have asked CMPDIL to do the assessment. Benchmarking in coal mining is not the same like manufacturing of other goods," Jha said. He said to meet the yardstick of the best global standard was difficult due to socio-economic factors in India.

"But, if we know our position then we can definitely improve from we are now," Jha said. Jha was speaking on the sidelines of an event of MoU signing between BEML and Heavy Engineering Corporation to produce mining equipment jointly.

The collaboration will help both the BEML and the HEC to manufacture rope shovels and walking draglines of various capacities with higher indegenisation in lesser time and cost leveraging strength, company sources said.

GST slab for luxury, sin goods could see change; tax on cement, ACs may be cut soon: Arun Jaitley

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In a blog post published on social media on Friday, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley hinted that Goods and Services Tax (GST) tax rate on luxury and sin goods such as cement, air-conditioners and large screen televisions, among others, could be cut soon.

The finance minister has said that “within a record period of thirteen months, the GST Council has almost phased out the 28 percent category,” with the remaining products being luxury-sin goods.

“The day GST was implemented, several items which were proposed to be put in the 28 percent category (where the 31 percent items were adjusted) were brought down to 18 percent. On 10th November, 2017, within four-and-half months of GST implementation, 177 items and on 21st July, 2018, another fifteen items were brought down. Even in other GST meetings on individual basis, several items were considered and brought down,” Jaitley said in the blog.

“Today, the 28 percent category is being phased out. Bulk of these items remaining in this category are only luxury items or sin goods,” Jaitley added.

Items of common use such as sanitary napkins, footwear and fridge got cheaper as GST rate cut on about 88 items came into effect on Friday.

The GST Council, chaired by interim Finance Minister Piyush Goyal, had last week pruned the highest 28 percent tax slab by moving some goods to the 18 percent tax bracket.

Refrigerator, washing machine, small screen TV, storage water heaters, paints and varnishes will attract 18 percent GST from Friday, as against 28 percent.

Sanitary napkins, which attracted 12 percent GST, have been exempted from tax with effect from Friday.

Future Generali launches group policy to cover treatment of vector-borne diseases

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Future Generali India Insurance on Tuesday launched a group insurance product that provides financial support to people battling vector-borne diseases.

Vector-borne diseases like malaria, dengue, chikungunya and Zika fever are human illnesses caused by parasites, viruses and bacteria that are transmitted by ticks, fleas, mosquitoes and phlebotomine sandflies.

According to the World Health Organisation, these diseases account for 17 percent of all cases of infectious diseases in the world. 

The insurance policy is available to any person below the age of 65 years, without any medical tests. The sum insured will be between Rs 10,000 and Rs 75,000 per person per year, depending on the plan chosen.  

This insurance plan will provide a lump sum benefit in case the insured gets hospitalised (for a continuous period of 24 hours) due to any of the following diseases caused by vectors -- malaria, dengue, lymphatic filariasis, kala-azar, Japanese encephalitis, chikungunya and Zika fever.  

KG Krishnamoorthy Rao, MD and CEO, Future Generali India Insurance pointed out that not only has there been an increase in the number of claims relating to vector-borne diseases, there has also been a marked rise in the cost of treatment of these diseases. 

Earlier govts, then Congress President failed to fulfil household electrification promise: PM Modi

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi today blamed earlier governments, particularly then Congress President Sonia Gandhi, for not fulfilling the promise of electrifying all households by 2009.

"Earlier governments made promises, which they failed to fulfil. Then Congress President (Sonia Gandhi) said all households would be electrified by 2009. But that did not happen even in 2009, 2010 or 2011," Modi said during an interaction with the beneficiaries of Rs 16,320-crore Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (Saughagya) today.

Modi said that the promises made by earlier governments were not fulfilled because there was not serious leader, and now they (opposition) are finding faults with schemes and programmes being implemented by the present government.

He said that all villages in India were electrified by April 28, 2018, which is a historic date; adding, it was pity that after 70 years of independence, people don't have access to electricity.

The Saughagya scheme was launched last year in September under which about 3.6 crore unelectrified households would be electrified by March 31, 2019. However, the government is aiming to energise all these families by December 31, 2018, under Saubhagya.

Earlier this month, power ministers of all states and union territories were unanimous on electrifying all households in the country by December 31, 2018, during the Power Ministers Conference in Shimla.

GST Council likely to discuss inclusion of natural gas, ATF under GST amid apprehension from some states

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The GST Council, chaired by Finance Minister Piyush Goyal in its next meeting on Saturday is expected to discuss key issues such as cutting GST rate on items with limited revenue impact, rationalisation of rates, inclusion of natural gas and aviation turbine fuel (ATF) under the ambit of GST, among others.

According to a senior government official, the consensus between states and the Centre pertaining to the inclusion of the two petroleum products under Goods and Services Tax (GST) may not happen immediately as states have apprehension regarding a potential loss in revenue.

“Some states such as Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, among others, are against the idea of including natural gas under GST. However, it could be discussed in the Council meeting,” the official said.

Regarding the clamour for rate cut, the official said that revenue continues to be a concern for the government and items with massive revenue impact such as cement and paint may not be brought to a lower tax slab immediately.

The average revenue collection in the first quarter (April-June) of the financial year is not even Rs 97,542 crore.

“Items such as cement, paint, white goods are on the 28 percent (highest) tax slab. A rate cut is possible when the monthly revenue touches at least Rs 1 lakh crore,” the official said, adding that tax collection is expected to increase in the second half of the financial year, with greater demand due to the festive season.

The Council may agree to cut rates of some items such as handicrafts, sanitary napkins, handlooms, the official said adding that the government may not have to take a major hit on revenue if these products are moved to a lower tax slab.

The 28th GST Council meeting is crucial as Goyal will be chairing it for the first time since he got the temporary charge of the finance and corporate affairs portfolio in May. Former finance minister Arun Jaitley is currently working in a restricted environment from home as he underwent renal transplant two months ago.

Till now, Jaitley, had chaired all the 27 meetings of the Council that ironed out crucial taxation-related issues, along with the Centre. He played a crucial role towards the implementation of GST could be a part of the meeting via video conference.

The Council is also expected to approve 46 categories of amendments in GST-related laws, with a broader idea to reduce compliance burden, simplify the indirect tax system and bring more entities under the tax net.

Amendments such as the omission of liability to pay tax on the reverse charge, enabling new return filing procedures, allowing more service providers to opt for composition scheme, among others has been suggested.

The Council may also discuss rationalisation of rates, which could mean drawing a strategy towards fewer tax slabs under GST. Currently, GST has four broad tax slabs- 5, 12, 18 and 28 percent-- and three percent tax on gold and other precious stones.

However, a two or three tier tax slab is possible only when revenue collection is stable, the official said.

LNG imports jump 20% in first half of 2018: S&P Global Platts

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The country's liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports jumped 20 percent year-on-year in the first half of this year on strong growth in demand, S&P Global Platts said today.

It expects imports from the US market to increase in the coming years to meet the increasing demand.

"India's LNG imports jumped by 20 percent in the first six months of 2018 as compared to same period last year due to strong growth in demand," S&P Global Platts' director, LNG market development, Marc Howson, told reporters here.

With the government taking proactive steps to ease infrastructure bottlenecks and push for gas as penetration in the energy mix, Howson said LNG is the only option in boosting the country's gas demand in the next few years.

The country imports nearly 60 percent of LNG from the Middle East and the rest from Australia, West Africa and the US, the global energy, metals and commodities information provider said.

In the world market, China, ranked second, witnessed 50 percent growth in LNG imports, while India was ranked as the fourth largest importer of LNG, Howson said.

"We see higher imports from the US market in coming years. The LNG imports from US market is relatively small at 5 percent at present, which could well grow as US projects ramp-up in the coming years. The US LNG prices are also still competitive to spot price of LNG in India," he said.

The country has over 20 million tonne (mt) of contracted LNG, of which six mt is from the US. The country has contracted to buy $2 billion of US LNG annually for 10 years, S&P Global Platts said.

Howson said the country's gas market has a relatively low penetration of around 6.5 percent of energy mix as against government's target of 15 percent by 2020, due to an inadequate infrastructure of the pipeline for LNG expansion.

He pointed out that the LNG contracted volume and length of the derivatives contracts have drastically declined over the last decade. Historically, the majority of LNG contracts were priced indexed to oil prices, but now more contracts are being priced indexed to gas benchmarks, Howson said, adding that as gas markets become more volatile and buyers have less opportunity to pass through costs in regulated pricing, the importance of gas price hedging has grown.

With United States trade under a cloud, China opens to Indian pharma

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China is preparing to give swift regulatory approvals to India-manufactured drugs, the head of an Indian export promotion group said, as Beijing looks for new commercial partners ahead of what could be a protracted trade war with the United States

Indian firms are looking to fill gaps in Chinese demand for generic drugs, software, sugar and some varieties of rice, trade officials in New Delhi said.

"We do feel that China is receptive at this time and it's all about making prices competitive," said a government official involved in the effort to promote trade with China. The official declined to be identified since he is not authorised to speak to the media.

No concrete deals have been signed but the outlook for pharmaceutical sales from India is positive, according to officials from both nations.

India dominates the world's generic drugs market, exporting $17.3 billion worth of drugs in the 2017/18 (April-March) year, including to the United States and the EU. But only one percent of that went to China, the world's second-largest market for pharmaceuticals, industry data showed.

Dinesh Dua, chairman of the Pharmaceuticals Export Promotion Council (Pharmexcil), which falls under India's trade ministry, told Reuters in an interview that Indian firms could expect to win licences to export to China within six months of application.

"We understand internally that Chinese authorities have issued instructions that EU-approved Indian suppliers should be granted the industrial drug licence in an expeditious manner so they can enter the Chinese market within six months," Dua said.

Many Indian drug-makers are already selling to the European Union. The EU is already one of India's key export markets for medicines, and accounted for about 15 percent of overall drug exports in 2016/17, according to Pharmexcil.

Swift regulatory approvals in China, the world's second-largest drug market, would allow Indian companies to boost revenue at a time when pricing scrutiny and regulatory troubles have hurt US sales.

Some of India's largest drugmakers, Sun Pharmaceutical Industries and Lupin Ltd as well as Aurobindo Pharma Ltd have been trying for years to expand in the massive Chinese market, which is second only to the United States.

Details of Chinese moves to open up its heavily regulated pharmaceuticals sector have not been previously reported.

The CFDA did not respond to a Reuters' request for comment.

But Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said this week that China was moving forward on giving greater market access to Indian drug makers.

"China and India are witnessing a growth in pharmaceutical trade, and the two sides are in sound communication on opening the Chinese market to drugs from India and conducting dialogue and cooperation between the two sides' pharmaceutical industries," Hua told a regular news conference on Monday.

"The relevant departments have formulated specific measures on promoting China-India pharmaceutical trade cooperation and granting greater access to drugs from India. We believe that stronger pharmaceutical trade cooperation will contribute to the well being of the people in our two countries."


In May, China exempted import tariffs on 28 drugs, including all cancer drugs, a move that would help India reduce its trade imbalance with China, Luo Zhaohui, the Chinese ambassador to India said.

About 250 product applications from Indian drug firms are pending before the China Food and Drug Administration (CFDA), some of them for years, an Indian trade ministry official said.

Bilateral trade between the two Asian nations touched $89.6 billion in 2017/18 with the trade deficit widening to $62.9 billion in China's favour, an over nine-fold increase over the last decade.

The two sides are discussing ways to increase Indian sales of farm products, including sugar and some varieties of rice, to China.

India is also trying to persuade China to give access to its cost-competitive software service firms that have dominated global markets. Some of these firms are pitching for 'smart' manufacturing projects in the central city of Wuhan and two other provinces in the healthcare and automotive sector.

But it is in the drugs sector that India is hoping to make the first dent, according to officials and a government document.

China has agreed to train Indian pharmaceutical executives to help them gain a swifter entry into the Chinese market, a government document seen by Reuters on efforts to improve trade with China showed. The training is planned for next month.

India's Pharmexcil and the China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Medicines and Health Products will shortly sign an agreement to ease clearance processes and help Indian companies find Chinese partners, according to the document.

Dua and the Indian trade ministry official said China will soon open a desk at its embassy in New Delhi to facilitate Indian drug makers.

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