ASEAN, India to Sign Free Trade Pact in December

Total trade between ASEAN and India amounted to $28.7 billion in 2006

Southeast Asian nations expect trade with India will soar once the regional bloc ASEAN signs a just-concluded deal with New Delhi at a regional summit in December, officials said on August 8. Talks in Brunei removed the remaining obstacles to the pact, which will liberalize trade in goods between India and the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, said the group's secretary general Surin Pitsuwan.

The deal covering billions of dollars of trade in goods, but not services, is expected to be signed during the ASEAN-India Summit in December, officials said, though it was not immediately clear when it would take effect. Talks were supposed to have wrapped up last year, but got bogged down over Indian tariffs on crude and palm oil from regional heavyweights Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as metals and textiles from Thailand, officials said.

Total trade between ASEAN and India amounted to $28.7 billion in 2006, putting India eighth on the list of the bloc's trading partners behind countries like Australia and South Korea, according to ASEAN figures. A top Thai trade official predicted that number will rocket once the deal takes effect.

A more limited bilateral deal between Thailand and India was signed four years ago. Before the pact, two-way trade stood at one billion dollars a year, but now has jumped to four billion dollars a year, said Chana Kanaratanadilok, deputy director of Thailand's department of trade negotiations.

"Free trade between ASEAN and India will make a huge impact. Two-way trade between our country and India could average about $10 billion a year," Chana said.

The agreement with India is part of ASEAN's strategy of building trade pacts with major regional partners. The bloc is pushing ahead with FTA negotiations with Australia, New Zealand and the European Union, and is hoping for the early implementation of a comprehensive economic partnership agreement with Japan. ASEAN has also signed a landmark deal with China, to create the world's biggest free trade zone by 2010.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2008

TAGS: Trade
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