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 November 20, 2007

ASEAN wants better free trade offer from India 

The 10-nation ASEAN bloc will not resume negotiations with India on a free trade agreement (FTA) until New Delhi comes up with a better offer, officials said Monday.Trade ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are scheduled to meet with their Indian counterpart Kamal Nath on the sidelines of the annual ASEAN summit in Singapore on Tuesday."For the time being, it's temporarily postponed because we still cannot agree on the product coverage," Indonesian trade minister Mari Pangestu told reporters.He said a breakthrough is unlikely on Tuesday."Unless India will come up with a more progressive offer, I think we just have to wait and see what happens," he said.Negotiations have been stalled because of what ASEAN says is a list of 854 products that India wants to exclude from tariff cuts. India had submitted a list of 1,414 products, while ASEAN's target number is 400.

Philippine trade secretary Peter Favila said both sides would benefit from a free trade deal, but said ASEAN wanted to see more flexibility from India. India, which adopted a free market economy in the early 1990s, is keen to expand trade ties with ASEAN but wants to protect sensitive sectors such as agriculture and textiles, which provide livelihoods for millions. In August 2006, India proposed striking a separate deal on palm oil imports with Malaysia and Indonesia in a bid to speed up free trade talks with the bloc as a whole.The two ASEAN countries produce about 80 percent of the world's supply of crude palm oil. India currently imposes 70 percent tariffs on crude palm oil and 80 percent on refined palm oil.It has proposed to reduce those to 50 percent and 60 percent, respectively, but Malaysian trade minister Rafidah Aziz has criticized the proposed cuts on palm oil tariffs, which would run for more than 16 years. ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Courtesy AFP

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