Thailand's Deputy Minister of Commerce Alongkorn Ponlaboot on Tuesday expressed confidence that India and Thailand would conclude a Free Trade Agreement by 2011 to open up their respective markets.

“We are expecting to conclude the FTA next year even as the bilateral trade is set to cross the $6.50-billion mark this fiscal,'' Mr. Ponlaboot said at the Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry programme here.

The two countries had already abolished duties on 82 items under an Early Harvest Scheme (EHS), launched in 2004.

The EHS was an initial phase of the FTA, which was to be upgraded into a full-fledged arrangement for reduction and elimination of duties on most goods traded between the two countries. The FTA would also cover opening up of trade in services and investment and areas of interest to India.

The bilateral pact would be in addition to the India-ASEAN FTA, which became operational in January, 2010. Besides the overarching FTA with ten Southeast Asian nations, India had also signed FTAs with individual ASEAN members like Singapore, while talks had been wrapped up for a similar pact with Malaysia. After crossing $4.50 billion in 2009-10, bilateral trade between India and Thailand had already reached $6 billion this fiscal and was expected to cross $6.50 billion by the time this fiscal concludes.

Mr. Ponlaboot also said both sides should work together to conclude an India-BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) FTA as quickly as possible.

“The purpose of my visit to India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka is to move the BIMSTEC-FTA to the final stage. This pact will provide the opportunity for trade, business and investment and expand cooperation in sectors including logistics, energy and climate change,'' Mr. Ponlaboot said.

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