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Indian jewellers calls off strike; gold imports to rise

By Rajendra Jadhav

MUMBAI, March 19 (Reuters) - Indian jewellers called off a
19-day strike late on Saturday after government assured they
will not be "harassed" by the excise department in collecting a
new tax, the head of a trade body told Reuters.

Jewellers from the world's second-biggest gold consumer went
on an indefinite strike from the start of March after government
reintroduced a 1-percent excise duty on gold jewellery after
four years.

"We have called off strike. From tomorrow jewellers will
open shops," said Mohit Kamboj, president of India Bullion and
Jewellers Association (IBJA).

"The excise duty will remain there, but the government has
assured us officials from excise department will not harass
jewellers," he said.

Successive governments have struggled to curb appetite for
gold in Asia's third-largest economy, despite the imposition of
a 10-percent import duty in 2013 and other restrictions.

Annual imports of up to 1,000 tonnes of gold, accounting for
about a quarter of India's trade deficit, have also prompted the
government to launch a scheme to mobilise a pool of more than
20,000 tonnes of the metal in homes and temples.

The government decided to form a committee to address
jewellers' concerns, related to implementation of excise duty,
Kamboj said, adding the committee will submit its report in 60
days.

The government imposed an excise duty in 2012, but was
forced to roll it back after jewellers went on strike.

Jewellery sales in India have fallen since the start of the
year due to higher gold prices and as consumers delayed
purchases hoping for a cut in import duty in the budget. This
has forced importers to offer a discount of up to $53 per ounce
to clear inventory.

But Finance Minister Arun Jaitley surprised the market on
Feb. 29 by maintaining import duty and imposing excise
duty.

"There is lot of pent-up demand. Imports will rise from next
week," said a Mumbai-based dealer with a private bullion
importing bank.

India's February gold imports dropped to $1.44 billion, from
$2.91 billion in January.

(Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav)

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