NEW DELHI: Worried by the shrinking trade surplus in services, the government is working on a bouquet of reforms to play to the country’s core strengths of technology, leisure travel and medical tourism.

The commerce department has circulated a cabinet note on domestic reforms to enhance earnings from services exports, detailing measures that can be implemented after due deliberations. “It is work in progress. There are services like IT, tourism, medical tourism, legal and education, which are not our jurisdiction…We can apply our mind but it is up to the line ministries,”said an official, requesting anonymity. The services trade surplus narrowed 9% to $5.36 billion in July from $5.88 billion a year ago.

The department is calling for an overarching strategy dealing with services exports as it is an area of strength that the country can leverage as it enters into trade deals.

It has proposed a dedicated body for setting standards in the services sector as also a mandate to the government’s think tank, Niti Aayog, to identify steps to boost trade in the sector. The idea is to pinpoint sectors and ensure that they meet world-class standards though targeted measures.

Earlier, the commerce department had floated a note on liberalising visa norms to boost service exports, a matter that was taken up by the home ministry because it was outside the department’s ambit.

In a separate cabinet note, the government has proposed to collect disaggregated sector-wise data on trade in services to help project a better picture of India’s exports, which have been dragged lower by slowing outbound merchandise shipments.

With this, the government will be able to come out with sector-wise data on export and import of services such as health and education.

“We have circulated a draft discussion note-…line ministries will have to anchor it,” said an official aware of the development.

However, citing issues in collecting data on services exports, the official said that remittances come from the banking channel and services exports are intangibles. So, building a database is a problem.

The two-fold strategy can help lift India’s exports.

“We have been working with DGCIS (Directorate General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics) so as to offer paper reporting on a voluntary basis-…how do you find a mechanism to measure legal services?” the official added. “DGCIS wants to collect data in trade in services because RBI data doesn’t have disaggregated sector-wise data,” said an official from another ministry who is aware of the note.

Although the RBI collects services data, the official said there is a requirement of country-wise and product-wise data as services as a sector is heterogeneous in which the quality of estimates matters. Services accounted for almost 58% of the country’s gross domestic product in 2010-11 and even after a 52.5% share in gross value added in 2014-15, as per data available with the Central Statistical Office, the sector is not tracked very well.

India’s major services exports in 2013-14 were computer services; business services including professional and consulting services, technical and trade-related services and R&D services; travel; transport, and financial, insurance and pension services.

Rs 1,500-crore booster dose

The government has given additional Rs 1,500 crore to boost exports of traditional medicines, herbs, marine products, plastics and industrial goods among others.

In the backdrop of the continued challenging global environment being faced by Indian exporters, the commerce department has extended support to certain new products and enhanced the rate of incentives for certain other specified products under the Merchandise Exports from India Scheme (MEIS).

It has added 2,901products falling under different product categories of traditional medicines like Ashwagandha herbs and its extracts, marine products, leather goods, newspapers, periodicals, silk items, made ups, wool products, tubes and pipes.

Earlier, 5,012 items were covered in the scheme.

The government also increased the rates of 575 product items including products of iron and steel, handicrafts, moulded and extruded goods.