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Thailand plans consulate in Chennai

By Our Special Correspondent

CHENNAI May 17. Thailand proposes to open a consulate in Chennai, and "the process for this has already begun", according to the Thai Consul in Mumbai, Wanna Sudjit.

Participating in a seminar on "Business Opportunities in Major ASEAN Markets", organised here on Thursday by the India-ASEAN-Sri Lanka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (IASLCCI), Ms. Sudjit said the Thailand-India Free Trade Framework Agreement would be concluded by July this year. A draft agreement for cooperation in information technology (IT) and another on agricultural cooperation had been finalised, and a draft agreement on tourism cooperation was under negotiation with India, she said.

Tran Trong Khanh, Ambassador of Vietnam and Head of the ASEAN-New Delhi Committee, said that at present any increase in bilateral trade in the case of Vietnam only meant greater trade deficit for his country vis--vis India.

He laid stress on the opportunities in the energy (oil and gas) sector, drugs and pharmaceuticals and research in agriculture, biotechnology, new materials, remote sensing etc., in Vietnam. His country was keen to attract investment and management consultants from India, Mr. Tran said.

Raja Ahmad Raja Daud, Assistant High Commissioner for Malaysia in Chennai, said Indian investors could look for opportunities in value addition to the huge surplus of palm oil in Malaysia, especially for non-edible purposes such as drugs and soaps and detergents, timber-related industries, electrical and electronic products and the education sector.

G. Baskara Kannan, Centre Director, International Enterprise Singapore (formerly Singapore Trade Development Board), Chennai, said Singapore, which was negotiating bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) with India, Canada and Mexico, had in the past few weeks concluded an FTA with the U.S. and already had FTA access to Japan, New Zealand and the European Free Trade Association. Its present objective was to transform itself from reliance on capital-intensive industries to knowledge-intensive production. Most of the one thousand Indian companies in Singapore were in high-tech or knowledge sectors. The island State's rapid economic progress was due to its most liberal and open trade and investment regime, Mr. Kannan said.

Dalton Sembiring, Counsellor, Indonesian Embassy, New Delhi, said his country was interested in using counter-trade, as it had done in the case of Russia, which would take palm oil from Sumatra in payment for its fighter planes. Though there was an intense debate in Indonesia whether or not to extend the cooperation agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) due to expire this year, the country would be able to manage without structural adjustment assistance (resorted to in the wake of the 1997 East Asian currency crisis) particularly in view of a recent offer of aid by Japan. Indonesia was keen to attract investment and trade in the edible oil, wood pulp and non-ferrous metals, besides petroleum and natural gas sectors.

Raghu Kailas, president, IASLCCI, and Sarat Chandran, Director, highlighted the untapped potential for Indian manufactured products in ASEAN.

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