Trade Ministers of India and ASEAN countries are likely to meet in Singapore next month to work out a common ground so that the much-awaited India-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement takes off next year.
The crucial meeting assumes significance in the wake of sharp differences between India and the ASEAN countries over the list of items on which New Delhi has not offered duty cuts.
At the official-level meeting in Singapore last month, the talks got bogged down as the ten-nation bloc wanted India to reduce its negative list to 60 items from 852 at present.
The FTA is scheduled to come into effect from January 1, 2007 but negotiations are stuck as India has asserted it would retain a large number of items in the negative list.
Commerce Ministry officials said that India has already covered about 80 per cent or more of the tariff lines for trade with these countries. However, in case of Malaysia and Indonesia the coverage is less than 50 per cent since only palm oil accounts for half of their exports with India.
India has now offered to Malaysia and Indonesia it would continue to import the quantities of palm oil that is already being imported, besides covering additional imports in future to take care of the growth. But the imports would not be allowed on zero-duty, the officials said.
Both the countries are, however, insisting on zero-duty imports and have not yet responded to India's latest proposal.
The government had earlier offered ASEAN the option of Tariff Rate Quota on a few items such as palm oil, tea and coffee to export a limited quantity of these commodities at a lower tariff compared to the normal rate in India. However, the proposal did not find much favour with ASEAN.