India firm on signing PTA with ASEAN at Chiang Mai summit December

By P. Vijian, NNN-Bernama,

New Delhi : India is firm on signing the much-awaited Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the Association of South East Asian nations (Asean) at this year’s Asean Summit in the northern thai city of Chiang Mai next month despite some teething problems that may further delay the trade pact, says a top Indian trade official.

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Indian observers have noted that the slow response from Asean’s older members, such as the Philippines and Thailand, to obtain their respective parliament’s approvals could possibly impede the signing process

“We are ready to sign even if other countries delay it. Only the Philippines is yet to give their offered list and Thailand may have some problems, they may not get the Cabinet approval by that time. But it is okay, they can sign later,” Indian Commerce and Industry Ministry Joint Secretary P.K. Dass told Bernama Tuesday.

With the political tension mounting in Thailand between the government and protesters seeking to topple it, there is growing concern whether Bangkok could get parliament’s approval on time while the Philippines had also not yet obtainedr legislative endorsement for the PTA.

Asean members and India are scheduled to sign the FTA on Dec 17 during the Asean-India meeting which would be held as part of the annual Asean summit, and the FTA is expected to come into force on Jan 1, 2009, after which duties on at least 80 per cent of traded goods would be cut to zero.

The 10-member regional grouping and India, one of its “Dialogue Partners”, begun negotiations for the FTA six years ago, but deep differences in their respective negative and sensitive items lists delayed conclusion of the FTA talks.

However, last August, the partners managed to strike a deal, which has the protential to expand bilateral trade from the current 20 billion USD a year to more than 52 billion USD by 2010 and at the same time create a market of 1.7 billion people with a combined gross domestic product of 2.4 trillion USD.

Dass, who was attending a one-day conference on “Asean-Economic Partnerships: Trade and Investment Opportunities in Delhi” here, said all countries concerned had agreed to sign but there were some minor issues that needed to be addressed.