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Indian, Asean ASEAN trade ministers to hold FTA talks


New Delhi : Trade ministers from India and ASEAN will make a last ditch effort in Singapore on Tuesday to hammer out differences over a complex free trade agreement before their leaders meet for summit-level talks.

Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath will hold consultations with his counterparts from Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Brunei on India’s latest offers on market access to ASEAN in politically sensitive agriculture products like palm oil, pepper and tea.

“The trade ministers will meet a day in advance and report to the (East Asia) Summit leaders the progress on the issue,” a senior Commerce Ministry official told PTI.

He said India has made “a very good offer” and hoped that a trade deal with a 10-member bloc can be concluded before the leaders go into the Summit meeting.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who leaves for Singapore on November 20 for wide ranging discussions with the leaders from the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), will look forward to FTA issues being ironed out to substantially bolster two-way trade which crossed USD 30 billion in 2006-07.

New Delhi has made an offer to reduce customs duty to 50 per cent on crude palm oil and 60 per cent on refined palm oil by 2018. On pepper and black tea, the offer is to cut duties to 50 per cent each by 2018.

ASEAN, particularly Malaysia and Indonesia, has sought increased market for both crude and refined palm oil and wants India to bind the duties at 30 per cent and 40 per cent.

Other nations such as like Vietnam want further reduction in duties on pepper and tea, two items which are of key interest to south India.