India and ASEAN to sign FTA by March

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Singapore, Nov 21 (UNI) After months of prolonged and hectic negotiations, India and the ASEAN appear to sign the Free Trade Agreement by March following New Delhi's offer to reduce tariff on many sensitive items like palm oil and pepper that would help remove hurdles in conclusion of this historic agreement, a major step for the economic integration of the two important economic entities of Asia.

''We will work together with you to conclude the negotiations, as agreed, by March next,'' Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh said in his speech at the 6th India- ASEAN Summit here.

Later talking to newsmen, Commerce Secretary G K Pillia said that both sides have agreed to settle outstanding issues relating to preferential access by March 2008.

The ASEAN Economic Ministrers noted with satisfaction the progress made since the last meeting in Cebu, the Phillippines. ''While the main elements of the modalities have been agreed upon, a few issues relating to the preferential access for a few products remain. Both sides have agreed to settle these issues by March,'' he further stated.

The Commerce Secretary said that the FTA in goods sector will be finalised by 2008,in service sector it will come into force around 2010.

He said that India will hold talks bilaterally with Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam to remove bottlenecks in conclusion of the FTA.

The India government has offered to reduce tariff on palm oil to 50 per cent and refined palm oil to 60, while Malaysia and Indonesia, main supplier of this item to India, insist for 40 and 30 per cent tarrif. However, he was confident that the matter would be settled amicably.

Mr Pillia said that legal text of the FTA agreement is expected to be finalised by Februaray.

The Prime Minister had also assured the ASEAN leaders that his government will show necessary flexiblity and determination to achive this objective.

UNI

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