Nirmala Sitharaman takes charge as defence minister

Nirmala Sitharaman today took charge as the country’s Union defence minister after she was given the responsibility few days back of this very crucial department.

Until now the department was held by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and after the cabinet expansion and appointment of the council of ministers, Sitharaman was given the responsibility.

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She had been a minister of state with independent charge until now. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry will now be headed by former railway minister Suresh Prabhu.

India’s merchandise exports started off well in the first year of Sitharaman’s tenure, reaching $310 billion back in 2014-15. However, after that, they have not been able to break the $300-billion annual barrier. Exports declined to $262 billion in 2015-16 and rose 4.7 per cent to $274 billion in the last financial year of 2016-17.

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The slowdown in global trade growth had been held responsible for this, along with a crash in prices of raw materials that India exports heavily, like processed petroleum, industrial metals, and meat.

On the other hand, Indian exporters have continued to raise the issue of falling competitiveness, loss of foreign market for strong sectors like apparel and engineering goods, and a growing trade gap with China, which they have flagged as a serious concern. They say the ministry should have been more forthcoming in addressing this concern. The trade deficit has reduced from $135 billion to $108 billion.

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