Asean and free trade

Asean and free trade

Problems in cementing a free trade agreement between India and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) centre on farm products. It’s not surprising why that’s so.

Asean wants India to cut import duties on products such as tea, pepper, palm oil and coffee, among others. Farmers have been at the receiving end due to uneconomic scale of production, protected markets and unremunerative prices. If import duties are cut immediately, farmers will surely be under distress. But if this is not done, consumers will be robbed of better prices.

This need not be so.

To begin with, it needs induction of better agronomic practices right away. The sleepy farm extension services, too, need to awaken.

Externally, India has to indulge in some deft diplomacy with Asean. The latter may not be willing to wait until 2018, the year India promises to cut duties on these imports. The country needs to throw open these markets much earlier.