India has formally signed a free trade agreement for services and investments with ASEAN. Philippines, now the only ASEAN country yet to sign the pact, is also expected to do so soon.
All ASEAN members — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — are expected to get the agreement ratified by their Parliaments after which it will be formally adopted during the next India–ASEAN summit later this year.
The services agreement will open up opportunities of movement of both manpower and investments. The pact will allow India to leverage its competitive edge in the areas of finance, education, health, IT, telecommunications and transport. This will be especially helpful for balancing India’s deficit with ASEAN countries in trade of goods. The India–ASEAN Agreement on trade in goods was operationalised in 2010.
Key to India’s interests is a brief annex in the agreement on the movement of natural persons that defines business visitors, intra corporate transferees (managers, executives and specialists) and contractual service suppliers.
A Commerce Ministry source said the move would help provide a commercially meaningful market across ASEAN for India’s professionals, including those from the IT/ITeS sector. Independent professionals have not been defined in the annex, he added.