India, Malaysia to sign over 13 pacts, business tops agenda


New Delhi/Kuala Lumpur: India and Malaysia are set to sign more than 13 pacts to add more economic muscle to their ties and give a push to free trade area negotiations during Malaysian Prime Minister Mohd Najib Tun Razak’s five-day India visit that begins Tuesday.

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Accompanied by senior ministers, state chief ministers and a large business delegation, Razak touches down in New Delhi Tuesday evening.

In Kuala Lumpur, Razak struck an upbeat note on the eve of his maiden visit to India that is expected to take ties between India and one of the most vibrant Southeast Asian economies that has a large Indian-origin population to new heights.

“The latest count is 13 and we are still counting,” Razak said in Kuala Lumpur when asked about agreements to be signed during the visit. Most of the MoUs would be from the private sector that is engaged in a variety of projects in India.

Razak said his visit to India would be “substantive and not purely ceremonial”.

The agreements will be signed after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh holds talks with his Malaysian counterpart in New Delhi Wednesday. Razak will also go to Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu that accounts for a large number of 1.8 million persons of Indian origin (PIO) settled in Malaysia. Issues relating to the welfare of PIOs will also figure in the discussions.

“We are hopeful that the visit would deepen bilateral engagement,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Vishnu Prakash said.

Infrastructure, IT, biotechnology and energy are some of the important emerging areas of cooperation between the two countries, he said. The visit is also expected to give a fresh impetus to negotiations on comprehensive economic partnership agreement between them. The two countries have already held two rounds of negotiations. The India-ASEAN FTA has brightened chances of a similar agreement between India and Malaysia. “We are working towards it,” Prakash said. Economic ties between the two countries have been burgeoning since India opened its economy in the early Nineties.

Malaysia is India’s second largest trading partner in ASEAN. India is the largest importer of palm oil from Malaysia. India is the seventh largest investor in Malaysia, with around $1.6 billion invested by Indian companies in that country.

Talks would be held on road construction, education, information and communication technology, oil and gas exploration, pharmaceuticals, tourism and green technologies. Bilateral trade had reached $10 billion and the two sides are hoping it will multiply in the future.

The Malaysian prime minister will also attend a roundtable meeting with selected Indian industrialists and launch a Malaysian property exhibition. Malaysia is appreciative of India’s Look East policy that has taken rapid strides under Manmohan Singh who last year pushed through a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between India and the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian nations (ASEAN).

Besides economic ties, Malaysia and India have defence cooperation.

On whether Malaysia would collaborate with India in nuclear technology for sourcing of energy, Razak said: “We have not made any decision yet as nuclear energy will be the last option for the country.”

During his visit to Chennai, he will meet with the Malaysian community, including businessmen and students. Around 3,000 Malaysian students are studying in India.