India and the 10-nation South East Asian trading bloc Asean are expected to widen their trade engagement by signing in October, a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that will cover services and investment.

India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed an FTA in goods in August last year and are engaged in intense negotiations to expand this pact to include services and investments.

“We hope to conclude the negotiations on services and investment in the next three to four months and if we are able to conclude it by August, we might be able to sign the agreement in October,” Joint Secretary in the Commerce Ministry P.K. Dash said here at FICCI function.

The services sector is of key interest to India as it contributes over 55 per cent to its GDP. The services sector has also emerged as an important area for export earnings.

“We are looking at market access into their (Asean) service area...we are talking for a whole range of services including banking, insurance, health, accountancy, architects and engineers,” Mr. Dash said.

On the entry barriers like visa for Indian professionals in the Asean market, Mr. Dash said it was being discussed. He also said trading bloc does not recognise Indian education degrees. To open trade in services, the Asean has to recognise Indian degrees, he added.

Officials from India and Asean will begin meetings from next month on widening the base of the FTA in goods. The two sides aim to increase their $ 44 billion trade to $ 50 billion by the end of 2010.

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