FTA with Asean set to be sealed by this weekend

August 27, 2008 at 2:25 am Leave a comment

The Economic Times – August 27, 2008
NEW DELHI: The India-Asean free trade agreement is expected to get a formal nod by the end of the week at the meeting of the economic ministers of the two sides in Singapore. Trade ministers are also likely to fix a date for starting negotiations on services and investment which are not part of the pact at present.

The meet, which will be attended by commerce minister Kamal Nath, will take place on Friday, the last day of the annual meeting.

Official sources told ET the agreement was expected to sail through at the meet as the trade negotiations committee had finally drafted a pact which was acceptable to all Asean members as well as India. “All the hard work has already been done. The negotiations committee had to meet numerous times before everybody finally found the draft acceptable. There is no scope for further changes now,” an official said.

The Asean includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and Vietnam.

Sources pointed out that a date for starting and concluding the negotiations on services and investments would also be fixed at the meet.

Initially, these two issues were to be negotiated with goods as part of a comprehensive economic co-operation agreement However, Asean later insisted talks on goods should be concluded first in the form of an FTA and talks on services and investments should happen subsequently.

“India is very keen on services and investment but has been forced to wait till the goods agreement was in place. Now, we will ensure that the negotiations begin as soon as possible,” the official added.

Under the FTA, India will open its market for about 96% of the traded commodities with Asean over the next 10 years. It will continue to protect about 480 items from duty cuts which includes sensitive farm and industrial products like automobile components.

The FTA will be endorsed at the highest level at the India-Asean meet in Bangkok in December which will be attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

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