ASEAN, India agree to sign FTA on services, investments in December

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ASEAN and India are primed to sign a free trade agreement (FTA) on services and investment this December on the sidelines of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) meeting in Bali next month.

The FTA would open up greater job opportunities for professionals in information technology, healthcare, designing and research in the region.

According to officials at India’s Ministry of External Affairs the agreement will be operationalised by July 2014.

“India has strengths in IT and other service areas whereas some ASEAN member countries have strengths in the infrastructure and manpower management area,” said Lal Duhthalane Ralte, Indian High Commissioner to Brunei yesterday.

“The agreement will allow these strengths to be exchanged more easily between the two (thereby) enlarging each others’ markets and opportunities.”

India and the 10-member bloc already have a goods agreement in place that came into force in August 2011, providing tariff-free access to a range of product lines such as textiles, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, food and auto parts.

Presently, two-way trade stands at $76 billion in 2012-2013. Both the sides have aimed at increasing it to $100 billion by 2015.

Ralte told _The Brunei Times _that once the deal on services and investment was signed, both FTAs will be merged into a single agreement called the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).

“The ASEAN-India FTA on services and investment will go beyond what we already have in the form of the FTA in goods... More open investment opportunities and easy flow of service people between the two regions will help boost goods trade as well.”

The agreement in services was supposed to be signed in 2009, when the goods pact was agreed upon, but some ASEAN countries expressed apprehension at Indians eating away at jobs in Southeast Asia. However, the deal was finally sealed during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Brunei last month during the ASEAN-India Summit in Brunei.

During the visit, Singh also announced that India would appoint a permanent resident ambassador to the ASEAN secretariat in Jakarta.

Ralte added: “We see ASEAN-India cooperation moving in the right direction and we would like to make sure it doesn’t falter. The new ambassador’s office will help move the many facets of our engagement forward.”

The Brunei Times