India-ASEAN conclude FTA in services, investments

India-ASEAN conclude FTA in services, investments New Delhi: Aiming at a bilateral trade of USD 200 billion by 2022, India and the 10-member ASEAN Thursday concluded an FTA in services and investments that will pave the way for Indian professionals like engineers and doctors to access the Southeast Asian market.

India also hoped early inking of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, observing that "there were no hiccups left" and "no rough edges" in the negotiations which have been completed "successfully".

"Only formalities are left....Substantive part is over," he said here when asked about the timeframe of signing of the pact.

The decision was taken during the ASEAN-India Commemorative Summit, attended by heads of states of nine Southeast nations and Vice-President of the Philippines.

Strengthening ties, India and ASEAN also elevated their dialogue partnership to a strategic level.

Following implementation of FTA in goods last year, both the sides were engaged intensely to widen the base of the pact by including services, an area of key interest to India, and investments.

"I am optimistic that our trade will exceed USD 100 billion by 2015 and we should aim for the milestone of USD 200 billion 10 years from now," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said while addressing the Summit.

The finalisation of FTA was welcomed by all leaders, who also talked about enhancing cooperation in other untapped areas.

The free trade pact after its implementation is expected to facilitate temporary movement of business people, including contractual service suppliers and independent professionals in accounting, architecture, engineering services, medical and dental, nursing and pharmacy, computer services and management consulting.

However, the negotiations witnessed differences in the views of some ASEAN countries, particularly from the Philippines and Indonesia. It is understood that the pact agreed today was on the pattern of "8+1+1" with specific terms in case of these two countries.

Out of the total 35.06 million work force in the Philippines, 51 percent are engaged in services sector. In a way, it is a strong competitor for India in the global BPO market.

India, whose services sector contributes about 55 percent to the country's economic growth, was very keen to enter the ASEAN market. The pact would also help India to increase its stake in the region in sectors like infrastructure.

"Together we constitute a community of 1.8 billion people, representing one-fourth of humanity, with a combined GDP of USD 3.8 trillion. It is only natural that India should attach the highest priority to its relationship with ASEAN," Singh said.

PTI