NEW DELHI – For long, India’s trade negotiators have dealt with tricky issues such as cutting import duties on cars, spirits or farm goods or allowing foreign lawyers and auditors to practice in India. But they had never come across requests for massage parlours or spas.
Well, Thailand — which is among a host of countries negotiating a bilateral trade deal with New Delhi — has demanded just that, and walked into unchartered territory. The demand also includes allowing Thai restaurants preferential entry into India. In addition, Bangkok has asked for dropping conditions such as local sourcing and minimum investment that are prescribed for retail chains that use the India-Thailand treaty.
Commerce department officials told TOI that Thai negotiators have demanded almost everything that Indians look out for when they go to Bangkok, a regular port of call for several locals, be they shopkeepers or law makers.
Officials said the issues were “under active consideration” and even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been briefed about the proposals.
The demand is two-fold: Allow Thai chains to set up Indian outlets, either directly or through joint ventures with local players. Given that there are no foreign investment restrictions on opening restaurants, massage parlours or spas, there is unlikely to be much trouble. After all, restaurants or spa chains can always set up shop through franchises in India.
It is the second demand which may create some concern as it involves the Indian government guaranteeing easy access for masseurs, therapists and chefs. In other words, India will have to give some sort of an assurance that it will issue visas to professionals working in these outfits.
But there may be some knotty issues to deal with before agreeing to the Thai demand. An official said that in almost all cases, the local industry is consulted to gauge its reaction and even provide some sort of level-playing field. It may be a tough task for officials given that restaurants, spas and massage parlours are largely in the unorganized sector in India.