India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are committed to achieving a trade target of $70 billion by 2012, up 40 per cent from $50 billion in 2010, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma said at the first India-ASEAN business fair and conclave being held here by the Commerce Ministry and the Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).

India and the 10-nation bloc also broadly agreed that the free trade agreement (FTA) to cover services and investment sectors would be in place by 2011-end. Interestingly, there has been a rough ride for India and the bloc in this issue as negotiations have been going slow due to differences over various issues. The FTA in goods is already operational since January last year. “We are in an advanced stage of concluding negotiations on FTA in services and investments,'' Mr. Sharma said.

ASEAN trade ministers are here to attend the conclave.

Malaysian International Trade and Industry Minister Dato Seri Mustapa Mohamed said further progress was expected when negotiators would meet later this month in Brunei, Darussalam.

Regarding concerns on including services, Mr. Mohamed said: “On the movement of natural persons, there are some concerns within the ASEAN countries that whether this might have an impact on our own people and professionals in the ASEAN region.''

Movement of natural persons means professionals would be able to move more easily between India and ASEAN, once the pact comes into operation. However, he added that the relationship was not complete without conclusion of the agreement in services and investments.

The Philippines Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) Secretary, Gregoryl Domingo said they had some constitutional constraints regarding services agreement, but hoped that the negotiators would find a way out for this.

“We hope it can be concluded by the end of this year. This was also the subject we raised with Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, when we met,'' The Malaysian Trade Minister said.

More than 500 exhibitors are participating in the fair. ASEAN (made up of Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) has forged free trade pacts with a number of key regional economies, including China and India.

Keywords: ASEANFTA

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