India eyes early investment, services pact with ASEAN

India eyes early investment, services pact with ASEAN

Danang, Vietnam: India’s commerce minister said Friday he hopes for an early conclusion to talks on a deal for the free flow of investment and services with Southeast Asia.

New Delhi and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) last year signed a pact for the free trade of goods, and Anand Sharma said follow-up talks on investment and services were going well.

“Hopefully we can expect an early closure... very early," he said after annual talks with his ASEAN counterparts, adding that negotiations would resume next week.

Leaders of ASEAN and India are to hold a summit in late October, when progress on the investment and services deal will be reviewed, Sharma said.

Asked what hurdles remain, he said: “It’s not a question of obstacles. When countries negotiate as 10-plus-one there are always issues, and in the spirit of accommodation and understanding the negotiations proceed."

The two sides signed their free trade in goods agreement last year after tough negotiations, which had bogged down on differences over products that India wanted excluded from tariff cuts.

India is ASEAN’s seventh-largest trading partner, with total trade last year of more than $39 billion, according to ASEAN data.

That figure is short of the $50 billion target for 2010 that was announced when the free trade deal was reached.

Sharma said five ASEAN members have already ratified and implemented the trade in goods deal, and a sixth has just announced its intention to join.

“So it’s good, it’s good progress," the minister said.

The Southeast Asian bloc of almost 600 million people has forged free trade pacts with key regional economies, including China and India, to ensure it does not become economically sidelined.

ASEAN itself aims to achieve a single market and manufacturing base by 2015.