India-ASEAN trade pact signing on schedule

India-ASEAN trade pact signing on schedule

New Delhi: Political problems in Thailand are unlikely to come in the way of India signing a trade-opening pact with the 10-nation south-east Asian economic bloc during the India-ASEAN summit on 17 December.

“If any country is unable to complete its domestic procedure, it would sign it later. The rest of them will sign on the scheduled date," a Commerce Ministry official said.

While the deal on the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) was clinched in August, it was left to be signed at the 17 December summit, which is to be attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Unlike India, where trade agreements do not need Parliamentary approval, ASEAN member-countries require clearance from their Parliaments for the pact that would open the market for goods for 1.5 billion people.

Due to the political uncertainty, Thailand is not able to take Parliamentary green signal for the pact.

“Thailand will also move further... if their Parliament can’t approve, before the target date, they will tell us. Most likely they will sign," the official said.

Prolonged negotiations on the CECA were completed in August. Differences revolved on the level of opening the politically-sensitive agricultural commodities like tea, palm oil and pepper.

While CECA would initially be restricted to goods, negotiations on extending its scope to services and investment would begin in the next phase.

ASEAN has emerged as an important economic partner for India with bilateral trade growing to $38 billion in 2007-08. This is set to grow to $50 billion by 2010.

Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam make up the 10-nation ASEAN.