Kamal Nath begins parleys as Asean hardens stand on FTA

Kamal Nath begins parleys as Asean hardens stand on FTA

Singapore: Commerce Minister Kamal Nath today began hectic parleys with his counterparts from Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam to narrow down differences on finalising the much-awaited Asean-India Free Trade Agreement.

However, the Indonesian Trade Minister Mari Pangestu said here last evening that the 10-member Asean had put the trade talks “on hold" until India came up with a more progressive way forward.

Indian trade negotiators had hoped that the FTA with Asean could be finalized before the arrival of Prime Minsiter Manmohan Singh later today. However, Pangestu’s statement had set the mood otherwise.

Kamal Nath, who arrived here this morning and will attend the Asean Economic Meeting, began one-on-one meetings with his counterparts from Singapore, Malaysia’s Rafidah Aziz and Vietnam’s Vu Khaon.

The disagreements in the FTA are over the tariffs and market access and share especially for palm oil, pepper and tea.

“We’re postponing the negotiations for now until we can find a way forward," Pangestu told reporters. “Unless India can come up with a more progressive way forward, we’ll just wait," Pangestu, who is here to attend the Asean summit, said.

Malaysia, which holds the Chair for Asean’s Tariff Negotiating Committee, is keen to see duties reduction for crude palm and refined palm oil.

India has made an offer to reduce customs duty to 50% on crude palm oil and 60% on refined palm oil by 2018.

Palm oil prouducers Malaysia and Indonesia also want increased market share for palm and refined palm oil.

Vietnam’s interests are over the duty cuts on pepper and black tea.

“Asean India FTA negotiations have reached a concluding phase with only a few issues to be resolved," Kamal Nath recently told a Malaysian business magazine. He had expressed confidence that these would be resolved before the Asean-India summit here.

The minister said there were mutual benefits in the investment regimes that would follow a Free Trade Agreement. He added that businesses have ample time to plan their investments on the basis of comparative advantage that is provided by the tarff concession.

“I am confident that India, along with Asean would be able to attract investments from all over the world," he told the magazine.