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India, Asean hope to extend FTA

March 02, 2011 15:58 IST
India and the bloc of 10 Southeast Asian nations on Wednesday exuded confidence that their bilateral free trade agreement, presently limited to merchandise, will be enlarged to cover services and investment sectors by 2011-end.

The two sides are engaged in hectic negotiations to expand the ambit of FTA in goods, which was already operationalised from January last year, to include trade in services and investments, a key area of interest for India.

"We are in an advanced stage of concluding negotiations (for free trade agreement) in services and investments," Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma told reporters in New Delhi in the presence of trade ministers of ASEAN.

Trade Ministers of Association of South East Asian Nations are in New Delhi to attend the India-Asean Business Fair and Conclave. Ficci is the lead coordinator of the event. Malaysian International Trade and Industry Minister Dato Seri Mustapa Mohamed said further progress is expected when negotiators would meet later this month in Brunei Darussalam.

Regarding concerns on including services, Mohamed said: "On the movement of natural persons, there are some concerns within the Asean countries that whether this might have an impact on our own people and professionals in the Asean region."

Movement of natural persons means professionals would be able to move more easily between India and Asean, once the pact comes into operation.

However, he added the relationship is not complete without conclusion of the agreement in services and investments.

Philippines Department of Trade and Industry Secretary Gregoryl Domingo too said they have some constitutional constraints regarding services agreement, but hoped negotiators would find a way out for this.

"We hope it can be concluded by end of this year. This was also the subject which we raised with your Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, when we met this morning," Mohamed said.

India-Asean trade in 2010 stands at $50.33 billion. Both the sides aimed to touch $70 billion by 2012.

Earlier in the day, Sharma and all the Asean Ministers made a courtesy call on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and apprised him of the progress of the negotiations.

Sharma has informed the Prime Minister has invited all the Heads of Asean countries to India for the first Summit to be held soon in New Delhi.

More than 500 exhibitors are participating in the fair.

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