India is willing to grant concessions on tariffs for the four agricultural commodities that proved to be a hurdle in finalising the India Asean free trade agreement but made it clear that it expected other countries to match its steps to wrap up the deal.
“We have sealed most part of the agreement,” Indian commerce secretary GK Pillai, who held a series of meetings with his counterparts from Asean countries, said. He said that tariff on pepper, coffee, tea and palm oil had held up finalisation of the agreement. Commerce Minister Kamal Nath had also held informal consultations with his counterparts from the region on Tuesday where he negotiated a March 2008 deadline to complete talks on the deal and keep it ready for signing at the economic ministers meet in May.
New Delhi is worried for the present as the process could get delayed and result in gaining an unfavourable position vis-à-vis trade with Asean countries. The Asean countries have a population of just about 500 million but a much higher per capita income, which translates into the capacity of a higher purchasing power. While India wants access to this market on favourable terms, Asean countries want access to India’s market.
It was in this context that at the plenary session of the east Asia summit, Singapore attributed the transformation of east Asia to the two economic powerhouses – China and India. But Delhi is concerned at the spate of free trade agreements (FTAs) that Asean is signing with other countries. While South Korea and ASEAN signed the FTA on services at the annual summit in Singapore, Japan sealed the one to cover goods this year. “It is all the more important to get in before it is too late,” Pillai said.