Be pragmatic, remove hurdles in FTA : India tells ASEAN

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Bangkok, Sep 14 (UNI) India today asked ASEAN nations to be pragmatic and remove the stalemate on the Indo-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (FTA) as it would be a ''win-win situation'' for both sides.

It also reaffirmed support to all round development of ties with China without allowing any differences, including the boundary question, to define the agenda of Sino-Indian relationship.

External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, in his keynote address at the Institute for Security and International Studies (ISIS) of the Chulalongkorn University here, said the India-ASEAN FTA lay at the heart of the engagement with ASEAN and in the coming years, through mechanisms like free trade or Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreements (CECA), India hoped to further promote all the individual relationships as well.

The Minister, who arrrived here yesterday on the first leg of his two-nation tour to co-Chair the Indo-Thailand Joint Commission meeting, admitted that although the implementation of the FTA was to begin on January 1, 2006, the negotiation process had proved difficult.

The challenge had been to harmonise the positions of the two partners who were both willing but had different characteristics.

He, however, expressed the hope that there would be a breakthrough in the coming months as there had been positive developments in the recent past.

''While all sides may not get a solution that meets all their objectives, the time has come for us to be pragmatic and find an outcome that is a win-win for both sides,'' Mr Mukherjee said while speaking on 'India's Look East Policy : Implications for Thailand and SouthEast Asia.' Describing China as a ''key component of India's Look East Policy and an important priority of India's Foreign Policy,'' the External Affairs Minister said New Delhi was committed to addressing pro-actively any differences with Beijing through peaceful dialogue on an equal footing.

''While we remain fully conscious of our outstanding differences with China, including on the boundary question, the basic paradigm of our approach is to seek an all-round development of ties without allowing these differences to define the agenda of the relationship.

At the same time, we remain committed to addressing pro-actively these differences through peaceful dialogue on an equal footing,'' the Minister said.

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