Commerce Minister Kamal Nath has said that India's "sensitivities" should be seriously attended to by the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) during their negotiations for the proposed free trade agreement (FTA).
On the sidelines of the three-day Pravasi Bharatiya Divas which began on Sunday, Nath emphasised: "The sensitivities must be reflected in the ASEAN FTA."
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is scheduled to attend the forthcoming ASEAN summit being held at the island resort of Cebu in the Philippines from January 10 to 15.
Singh will reach on January 14. Nath will be going earlier to make efforts to reach a consensus with the ASEAN on the contentious issue of the 'negative list' — of items that India does not want covered by the proposed FTA, as that would hurt the interests of Indian farmers and sections of the domestic industry.
Negotiations on the proposed Indo-ASEAN FTA had hit a roadblock with ASEAN not agreeing to the pruned negative list of 563 items suggested by India and insisting on restricting the number to its own list of just 60 items. India had originally put forward a list of 1414 items to be included on the negative list, which was then pruned to 852, and next to 563.
In its latest offer, India has said it is ready to scale its list down further to 490. But the figure of 60 items is still far away.
The negative list includes items such as spices, plantation crops (tea, coffee etc), vegetable oils (vanaspati and other edible oil), rice, fish, textiles, chemicals and plastics, electronics, auto components and footwear.
In a bid to thrash out a mutually agreeable tariff reduction blueprint, India has also offered new concessions covering more than 90 per cent of exports from ADEAN countries aimed at accelerating the stalled Indo-ASEAN trade talks on the proposed free-trade agreement (FTA).
India has 5222 tariff lines of which 4021 tariff lines will be eliminated to zero per cent by 2011 and the rest by 2015. Tariffs on some items in the 'sensitive category' items, which is a separate list, will be slashed to five per cent by 2018 and the remaining to 7.5 per cent by 2022.
Some ASEAN member countries, including Vietnam and Indonesia, have also insisted on India allowing greater market access to certain agricultural commodities such as palm oil and pepper.
India has now offered major reduction in import duty on products such as refined palm oil (from 90 per cent to 60 per cent), crude palm oil (from 80 per cent to 50 per cent), black tea (from 100 per cent to 50 per cent) and pepper (from 70 per cent to 50 per cent).
Negotiations on the proposed FTA with ASEAN first started in 2004. The agreement was supposed to be effective by 2007. The talks were suspended for a long time until August last year, when they resumed again.
Nath also said that said India was negotiating a new trade agreement with Mauritius. "We hope to conclude a new trade agreement with Mauritius in the next few months," he said.