Commerce Ministry seeks foreign service of its own

FP

The commerce ministry has moved to create its own foreign service in a bid to extend its control over foreign trade and economic affairs, identifying 38 missions where it plans to have dedicated trade officers who will report directly to the commerce secretary.

It is learnt that a cabinet note has reached the Prime Minister's Office with the approval of the finance ministry's department of expenditure, which has sanctioned the creation of 38 counsellor- and first secretary-level posts in missions located mostly in Europe and the Americas. Interestingly, not a single post is slotted for Africa.

The biggest jolt in this proposal is to the Ministry of External Affairs and its cadre of Indian Foreign Service officers, whose influence will shrink greatly if the proposal goes through. Given that these trade officials will have their own parallel reporting structure to the commerce ministry, the role of the mission head or the ambassador is likely to diminish.

Also, the proposal is clear that the Civil Services Board, and not the Foreign Services Board (FSB), will appoint these officers, lending another twist to a simmering turf war because that will completely leave out IFS officers and let in the IAS and other services for these plum posts. All diplomatic assignments are now cleared by the FSB, the main body for IFS officers.

However, the MEA's defence is somewhat dented. According to sources, former Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, who is now the Indian Ambassador to the United States, gave her consent during an inter-ministerial meeting on the subject.

Even though External Affairs Minister S M Krishna is said to have written to Commerce Minister Anand Sharma for more discussions on the issue in its initial stages, Rao's consent has been shown as the MEA's acquiescence in the cabinet note. The MEA never contested the minutes of that meeting, added sources.

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