Push to FTA on services with ASEAN

Seeking to put the India-ASEAN free trade agreement (FTA) on services on the fast track, India on Saturday impressed upon the negotiators to ‘step up efforts' and show greater flexibility for an early conclusion of an FTA in services and investments.

For India, the services sector is crucial as it contributes nearly 55 per cent to its GDP. The Economic Ministers of ASEAN, including the Commerce and Industry Minister, Anand Sharma, reviewed the progress of the FTA talks on services and investment agreement at the ``ASEAN Economic Ministers meet'' at Manado in Indonesia.

Both India and the ASEAN have already inked FTA in goods and are engaged in intense negotiations to expand this pact to include services and investments. ``The Ministers reviewed the progress in the negotiations on services and investment agreement. They tasked the negotiators to step up their efforts and exhibit greater flexibility for completion of these negotiations with substance,'' an official statement issued here said.

Impressing upon the need for more flexibility, Mr. Sharma urged ASEAN member countries to reciprocate with improved offers.

“The Economic Ministers underscored the importance of the services and investment agreement to complement the Trade in Goods Agreement in order to further enhance the economic integration of ASEAN and India,” the statement added.

Trade between the two sides increased by 24 per cent in 2010 and at stood at $51.3 billion.

Foreign direct investment inflows from ASEAN have touched $14.25 billion in May 2011 and accounted for 10.36 per cent of the country's total FDI.

Later in the day, Mr. Sharma also had bilateral meeting with the Economic Ministers from the East Asian Summit participating countries like Australia, China, Japan, Korea and New Zealand.

They exchanged views on regional and global issues affecting the East Asian region as well as developments in the areas of economic cooperation within the East Asia Summit framework, it said.

“The Ministers noted the progress of the Working Groups that were tasked to look into the recommendations in the studies on the Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia (CEPEA),” the statement. Mr. Sharma also held bilateral meetings with the Trade Ministers of Australia, Indonesia and Philippines.

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