ASEAN-India to Sign Free Trade Pact

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Aug. 11 – India's trade with Southeast Asian nations is expected to boom once India signs a free trade pact with ASEAN at the end of this year. The Southeast Asian trade body, consists of 10 member countries – Brunei, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines and Singapore.

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 told AFP, and will come into effect by the middle of next year.

Total trade between ASEAN and India amounted to US$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.

For India, the ASEAN deal will help expand its influence in Southeast Asia at a time when the country is vying with China for trade ties and access to natural resources.

New Delhi has agreed to cut import tariffs to around 5 percent from around 30 percent now and committed to gradually phasing them out altogether within a few years, Chana Kanaratanadilok, deputy director general of the Commerce Ministry's Trade Negotiation Department said.

Most ASEAN import tariffs, which now average 10 percent, would drop to around 5 percent, Chana said. Once the pact is in place, officials will start talks on liberalising service sectors, such as finance, telecommunications and investment, he said.

India adopted a free-market economy in the early 1990s and is keen to expand trade ties with ASEAN, but it is also keen to protect sensitive sectors such as agriculture and textiles, which provide livelihoods for millions.

Talks on the ASEAN deal had stalled over differences on products which India wanted excluded from tariff cuts.

New Delhi had submitted a list of 1,414 products, while ASEAN's target number was 400. The final list is reportedly about 560 goods, but officials would not give details on exactly how the differences were overcome.