In­dia ready to sign FTA in ser­vices, in­vest­ment with ASEAN: PM

The Pak Banker - - Front Page -

NEW DELHI

In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Man­mo­han Singh re­sponded to the urg­ing of As­so­ci­a­tion of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) by promis­ing to fi­nalise the Free Trade Agree­ment (FTA) in ser­vices and in­vest­ment be­fore lead­ers from this 10-na­tion bloc arrive in Delhi next month for a sum­mit with In­dia.

On Sun­day, Prime Min­is­ter of Sin­ga­pore Lee Hsien Loong and Pres­i­dent of Philippines Benigno Aquino dur­ing meet­ings with Dr. Singh were the most re­cent to press for an early con­clu­sion of a com­pre­hen­sive FTA. In­dia had signed the FTA in goods in 2009 and has since been ne­go­ti­at­ing its ex­ten­sion into the ser­vices and in­vest­ment sec­tors.

Al­though In­dian Com­merce and In­dus­try Min­is­ter Anand Sharma rolled out fig­ures to as­sert that trade with ASEAN was grow­ing in leaps and bounds, the fact re­mains that the dol­lars 75 bil­lions in bi­lat­eral trade clocked last year was only 2.9 per cent of this block’s to­tal trade. Even the FTA in goods cov­ers only 80 per cent of tar­iff lines com­pared with 90 per cent in ASEAN’s FTAs with other coun­tries.

“In­dia is pre­pared to con­clude the agree­ment on trade in ser­vices and in­vest­ment pro­mo­tion be­fore the com­mem­o­ra­tive sum­mit in Delhi in De­cem­ber. This will be a strong sig­nal of our deep­en­ing eco­nomic en­gage­ment, and will al­low for rapid ex­pan­sion in trade and in­vest­ment flows in both direc­tions,” Dr. Singh said in his open­ing re­marks at the one-hour In­dia-ASEAN sum­mit here on Mon­day. Dur­ing his re­sponse state­ment later, he felt a com­pre­hen­sive FTA would be the “spring­board” for rapid ex­pan­sion in eco­nomic re­la­tions with ASEAN.

With the US back­ing the ini­tia­tive, Dr. Singh said the In­di­aMyan­mar-Thai­land high­way would be op­er­a­tional by 2016 thus open­ing North East In­dia to South East Asia. He also spoke about an­other al­ter­na­tive route through cen­tral or north Myan­mar to con­nect Guwahati to Hanoi. US and Ja­pan at their re­cently held sec­ond tri­lat­eral meet­ing with In­dia had sup­ported this ini­tia­tive and the is­sue would be dis­cussed at their next meet­ing in depth to be held in Wash­ing­ton. “The route will be through vir­gin ter­ri­tory. With the big boys [Ja­pan and the US] back­ing it, we would like to give the pro­posal a try,” said Gov­ern­ment sources.

“These are wel­come steps in im­ple­ment­ing the vi­sion of In­di­aASEAN con­nec­tiv­ity. We await route align­ments on the ex­ten­sion of the Tri­lat­eral High­way and the pro­posed new high­way to Viet­nam so that these can be ex­am­ined in an in­te­grated man­ner. I look for­ward to early com­ple­tion of the fea­si­bil­ity stud­ies,” Dr. Singh said in this re­spect.

The Prime Min­is­ter pointed out that the im­por­tance of sur­face and sea con­nec­tiv­ity with the east was be­ing high­lighted by the In­di­aASEAN car rally that will cover eight ASEAN coun­tries over a route length of 8,000 kms and the sail­ing ex­pe­di­tion by the naval ship Su­darshini which set off from Kochi.

Dr. Singh also men­tioned other In­dia-ASEAN ini­tia­tives that tend to get eclipsed by more at­trac­tive ini­tia­tives. These in­clude the up­com­ing busi­ness fair in Delhi, a past meet­ing be­tween the heads of space agen­cies in Ben­galuru and a meet­ing of ASEAN eco­nomic min­is­ters in Guwahati next month.

He ap­pre­ci­ated Cam­bo­dia’s con­struc­tive and sup­port­ive role for the last three years as the co­or­di­na­tor for In­dia and wel­comed Brunei which has taken over this func­tion.

The Prime Min­is­ter’s as­sur­ance of across-the-board FTA with ASEAN by mid-De­cem­ber was wel­comed by the Con­fed­er­a­tion of In­dian In­dus­tries (CII) which pointed out that the two were among the big­gest ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the shift in global eco­nomic equa­tions and should jointly lever­age their large mar­kets and de­vel­op­ment en­deav­ors. —

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