ASEAN, India to sign free trade pact in December: official

August 8, 2008 at 8:57 am Leave a comment

August 08, 2008

BANGKOK (AFP) — Southeast Asian nations will sign a free trade pact with India in December on the sidelines of a regional summit in Bangkok, an official said Friday.

Talks in Brunei removed the remaining obstacles to the pact, which will liberalise trade in goods between India and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, an official with its secretariat told Dow Jones Newswires.

“With the development in Brunei, negotiators would now be working on finalising the text of the (agreement) which is targeted for signing on the sidelines of the ASEAN-India Summit in December,” the official said.

ASEAN secretary general Surin Pitsuwan told AFP on Thursday that the negotiations had been concluded on the deal covering billions of dollars in trade but not services.

Talks were supposed to have wrapped up last year, but bogged down over differences on products which India wanted excluded from tariff cuts. New Delhi had submitted a list of 1,414 products, while ASEAN’s target number was 400.

At their annual summit in Singapore last November, ASEAN officials said the grouping would not resume negotiations with India until it came up with a better offer.

It was not clear how the issue had been resolved and ASEAN officials at the regional bloc’s Jakarta secretariat were not available to comment.

India adopted a free-market economy in the early 1990s and is keen to expand trade ties with ASEAN, but it also wants to protect sensitive sectors such as agriculture and textiles, which provide livelihoods for millions.

ASEAN aims to create a single market of more than half a billion people by 2015 to help battle competition from China and India.

The bloc is also seeking alliances with the fast-rising regional giants. ASEAN has signed a landmark deal with China to create the world’s biggest free trade zone by 2010.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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