India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), on Tuesday, raised hopes of inking a historic free trade agreement (FTA) on services and investments during the two-day ASEAN summit in Delhi on December 20. “We will definitely conclude the negotiations and then we are duty-bound to report to the heads of states and heads of governments, who shall formally make the declaration on December 20,’’ Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma said at a joint press conference with trade ministers of key ASEAN countries.
At present, trade between India and ASEAN stood at $80 billion. Mr. Sharma said the aim was to take it to $100 billion by 2015.
Addressing the media, Cambodian Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh hoped that the two-way trade would cross the $100-billion mark.
After operationalising the FTA in goods in August last year, both sides engaged in widening the base of the pact by including services and investments. However, the talks were getting delayed due to differences among members of the block. “The three pillars of the India-ASEAN economic relations are FTA in goods (which was finalised in 2009 and came into effect in 2010), services and investment. The delay in reaching a consensus on FTA in services and investment can be attributed to the fact that there are ten nations having different issues and challenges, hence the complexities,’’ Mr. Prasidh said.
Mr. Sharma said all ministers had strongly supported the process of negotiations so that we can have an ambitious and balanced comprehensive economic agreement which would be in place once we conclude the services and investment chapter. However, he said after conclusion of the talks, it may take a year to fully implement the pact.
Earlier, inaugurating the second India-ASEAN business fair, organised by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Mr. Sharma said the negotiations for regional comprehensive economic partnership — a mega trade agreement comprising 16 countries of the region, including India and China — were expected to conclude by 2015.
Besides the FTA with ASEAN, India is negotiating market opening pact bilaterally with the members of the block. India has already implemented FTA with Singapore and Malaysia and is negotiating with Indonesia and Thailand in this regard.
“ Efforts are being made to connect ASEAN nations and India via roads, ports and air. East-West highway is part of that endeavour which will connect Thailand, India and Myanmar,’’ Mr. Sharma added.