Describing as 'positive' its role in integrating the region, India has said the economic groupings in South and Southeast Asia, including ASEAN and Bimstec, are interlinked and not overlapping each other.
"They are all interlinked, not overlapping each other and India wholly supports the role of positive movement in the region," Commerce Minister Arun Jaitley said.
His view was shared by External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha who said that although a certain amount of overlap was inevitable.
Both Sinha and Jaitley were in this island resort of Phuket, which Thailand calls a "pearl in the Andaman sea," to attend the Bimstec (Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri
Lanka and Thailand Economic Cooperation) ministerial meeting.
The latest development on economic front in the region is the Framework Agreement on Free Trade Area among countries of Bimstec grouping which comprises Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Nepal.
The lone dissident in the group was Bangladesh, a founding member of the bloc which refused to sign on grounds of procedural problems.
Terming India's role in integrating the region as 'positive', Jaitley said: "We are keen on a positive movement in the area and the signing of the framework agreement is a step forward."
He said: "Four old (India, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Myanmar) and two new members (Nepal and Bhutan) have signed this agreement."
Thai Foreign Minister Surakiat Sathirathai also said by tying together overlapping sub-regional frameworks not only will the BIMSTEC serve as a bridge between South and Southeast Asia but also effectively link the Bay of Bengal with the South China Sea via Andaman.
After signing the landmark framework agreement, Jaitley said: "Objective of an FTA (Free Trade Area) is to create a win-win situation in which the volume of trade increases and other forms of revenue generation more than cover what is lost by reduction in customs tariffs."
"FTA encourages cross-border investment flows and taken together the end result more than covers the losses which happen after reduction and lowering of tariffs."
"Lowering tariffs also lead to lowering input costs for domestic industry," he said.
The Bimstec Framework Agreement also covers services and investment while the SAFTA (South Asian Free Trade Area) under SAARC only covers goods.
Sinha noted that the Bimstec officials would discuss Bangladesh's issue 'to the full and complete satisfaction of' the country.
Under the framework agreement, the products -- except those included in the 'Negative list' -- would be subject to tariff reduction or elimination on two tracks: Fast Track and Normal Track.
For India, Sri Lanka and Thailand, the timeframe will be July 1, 2006 to June 30, 2009, while for Bhutan, Nepal and Myanmar, it will be from July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2017.
For products under Normal Track, the timeframe for India, Sri Lanka and Thailand will be July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2012, and for Bhutan, Nepal and Myanmar it will be from July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2017.