The services-and-investment component of the India-Asean free trade pact, which was to be inked here on Tuesday at the meeting of the economic ministers of the 10-country bloc, has been postponed.
Commerce and industry minister Nirmala Sitharaman cancelled her visit to Myanmar’s capital as she was asked by the Prime Minister to stay back and finalise the Jan Dhan Yojana project.
“The minister, who also holds the finance ministry portfolio, has been asked to stay back to work on the PM’s project,” said Ravi Kapoor, joint secretary, ministry of commerce and industry. “The agreement which has been negotiated and sealed was to be inked. However, we are in consultations with the Asean secretariat and hopefully it could be inked during the forthcoming Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) meet in New Delhi later this year.”
Formal negotiations for the Asean-India Free Trade Agreement in Services and Investment were concluded under the UPA government in 2012 and endorsed by Asean economic ministers in 2013, but the agreement has faced considerable opposition within the Asean bloc with Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines to individually ratify the deal.
The sticking point with these countries was the stipulation that Indian companies be allowed to hold a 51% majority stake in multi-brand retail foreign direct investment projects involving Asean member nations. This number has since been reduced to 49% in hopes of re-engaging the holdout nations.
Though the draft was all complete and negotiated, according to commerce ministry officials, the Philippines has yet to complete a domestic procedure. The Philippines has not ratified the deal as it wants greater protection for its domestic IT services and occupations, they said.
The Asean-India Services and Investment Agreement is built on the foundation of the Asean-India FTA in Goods, which came into effect in 2010 and liberalised tariffs on over 90% of items. The services and investment agreement is envisioned as a means to boost cross-board investment and facilitate access to professionals and highly skilled workers between India and the Asean bloc.
Following implementation of the Asean-India FTA in Goods, total trade between the nations grew by more than 35% to $79 billion in 2012, surpassing the initial trade target of $70 billion. In response, India and the Asean nations have adjusted their bilateral trade targets to $100 billion by 2015, and $200 billion by 2022.