Singapore: Proposing a simplified visa regime for businessmen to travel between India and ASEAN countries, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 21 November set up an ambitious bilateral trade target of $50 billion by 2010.
He also announced that an initial contribution of $6 million has been made to promote projects relating to climate change and enhancing cooperation in science and technology among these nations.
“India has a stake in ASEAN’s stability and prosperity just as we believe ASEAN has a stake in the transformation that India is experiencing,” Singh said while addressing the sixth India-ASEAN Summit here.
Sharing his vision of an Asian economic community consisting of an integrated market linked by efficient road, rail, air and shipping services, he said the creation of this “arc of advantage” would be possible if these countries built a robust institutional architecture for regional cooperation and action.
The Prime Minister told leaders from the 10-nation grouping authorities in consultation with industry representatives formulate simple criteria for issue of visas to bona fide businessmen to travel from India to ASEAN and vice-versa the same day.
Businessmen operating in these countries have often complained about inordinate delay in issuance of visas and cumbersome procedures.
Singh said officials from the sides have been engaged in active negotiations to conclude the India-ASEAN free trade agreement. “I have no doubt we all share a common political will to reach an agreement at the earliest.”
He said India on its part would continue to show the necessary “flexibility and determination” to achieve this objective.
New Delhi has made an offer to cut customs duty to 50% on crude palm oil and 60% on refined palm oil by 2018. On pepper and black tea, the offer is to slash duties to 50% each by 2018.
ASEAN, particularly Malaysia and Indonesia, has sought increased market for both crude and refined palm oil and wants India to bind the duties at 30% and 40%. Others like Vietnam want further reduction in duties on pepper and tea, the two items which are of particular interest to south India.
While the ASEAN countries have been insisting on real market access in edible oils, plantation products and even crude petroleum oil, Kerala has been making representations to the Central Government against throwing open their market.
“We will work together with you to conclude the negotiations, as agreed, by March next year,” the Prime Minister said.