India's prime minister on Monday pledged to lower tariffs on Southeast Asian imports and dismantle frivolous trade barriers, emphasizing that his country's destiny is linked with East Asia. As the latest emerging economic superpower after China, India has since 1992 pursued its "Look East Policy," a strategic shift in India's vision of the world, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a speech to business leaders ahead of an East Asia Summit this week.
Singh said the objective of the summit should be to create an East Asian Community and eventually a pan-Asian free trade area, a "dynamic, open and inclusive association." "This will not be easy, and it cannot be done in a day. There will be skeptics. But for believers, it is eminently possible. I am convinced that this is the only way to move forward," said Singh, an Oxford-educated economist.
He hoped that the free trade agreement being negotiated between India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will be a first step in that process.
Negotiations for such an FTA have fallen behind by a year, and are now expected to completed only by January 2007. Last week, Malaysian International Trade and Industry Minister Rafidah Aziz blamed the delay on the inordinately long list of items that Indian officials wanted to exclude from goods to be covered by the free trade area. They included major items like vegetable oil and petroleum products, but also trivial items such as chewing gum and dolls, clothed as well as unfinished, unclothed ones.
She said India's exclusion list of 1,414 products represented 44 percent of ASEAN's total exports to India, valued at US$4.76 billion (Ђ4 billion) Such barriers will go, said Singh.
"We are committed to bringing down our tariffs to levels prevalent in ASEAN countries, to dismantle unwarranted barriers and to expand global capital flows," he said.
"We must walk this road together, so that enterprises in our countries find it a beneficial process, not a hurtful one. There may be losers, and there will certainly be gainers, but on the whole, we will obtain a win-win outcome," he said.
Singh pointed out that India is also developing similar free trade areas with Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan and South Korea. "These are all milestones on the road to the eventual creation of an Asian Economic Community," he said, reports the AP. I.L.