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Free trade pact: ASEAN, India to resume talks

india Updated: Aug 25, 2006 20:01 IST
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Trade ministers from southeast Asian nations and India agreed on Thursday to resume previously suspended trade talks as part of efforts to speed up a free trade agreement.

Trade ministers from the 10-member Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) took the decision to "resume negotiations as soon as possible" after talks with India's Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, said Malaysian Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz.

"We have come to some understanding on the way forward and we hope it can be completed expeditiously," Rafidah said in Kuala Lumpur.

"These were key areas which, in the past, brought about a standstill," she said.

However, trade ministers "achieved some very basic agreements" during Thursday's talks, she said, adding that India had submitted a revised list of its goods to be removed from a free trade pact with ASEAN.

The revised list, she said, has been brought down to 560 types of goods, which India imports from southeast Asia and wanted to be excluded from the pact. India's list had previously compiled 850 goods.

"We cannot say we are satisfied (with India's list) because we disagree," said ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yong.

"But that's why we go back to the negotiation table and look at all these again," he said.

Kamal Nath said, India remained committed to resuming negotiations in order to expedite the signing of a free trade agreement with ASEAN, but needed to protect its own markets. "India, as all countries and as ASEAN, has its sensitivities," he said,"But at the end of the day, the bottom line is the expansion of trade."

Rafidah said there was a pressing need to conclude the talks with India in order for ASEAN to achieve its goal of creating an EU-style single market system, dubbed the ASEAN Economic Community, by 2015.

"If anything we do with a trading partner goes beyond 2022 or 2020, it doesn't live or go in sync with ASEAN's vision of having ASEAN Economic Community by 2015," said Rafidah.

Despite the problems in coming to an agreement, total trade between ASEAN and India increased by 30.4 per cent last year to $23.1 bn.

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