According to statistics by the Asian Development Bank, currently India tops the list of Asian countries with FTAs, followed by Singapore with 26, China and Korea with 22 each, and Japan (19). The total number of FTAs that Asian countries have entered into is 134. Out of Indias 30 FTAs, eight are with the integrating Asian region, while and 22 are outside of Asia.
Taking note of the plethora of FTAs, minister of state for commerce and power, Jairam Ramesh, said here in a lighter vein that India seems to be having more of (free trade) agreements and less of trade. He then said the government would soon work out the actual merits and demerits of these FTAs.
In this regard, the minister pointed to the recently concluded FTA talks that India had with the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) and said India had shown remarkable flexibility by agreeing to a liberal Rules of Origin and tariff headings protocol. He expressed concern over the $8 billion trade deficit that India has with Asean, as Indias exports to Asean is worth only $16 billion, while Aseans exports to India is to the tune of $24 billion. Ramesh added the fact that India entered into FTA talks with Asean knowing that we have lesser competitiveness than them in goods trade, speaks volumes of our attempts to integrate economically with Asia. Compared to this, Indias trade with Singapore is more balanced, with Indias exports to that country worth $7 billion and imports of $8 billion.
He said the decision to enter into an FTA with Asean was a strategic one taken by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who wants to ensure that India should not just have a look East policy, but one that ensures that India trades east.
Referring to the growing influence of the Asian region, that includes Japan, China, Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India, he said it accounts for 36% of the total international trade. On the other changes happening in the global trade, Ramesh said by this fiscal-end, China will emerge as Indias largest trading partner replacing the US. On the second element of Indias Look East policy architecture, the Bay of Bengal initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec), Ramesh said India hopes to soon conclude this FTA.
With the FTA with SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) countries well on course, the conclusion of the FTA talks with Asean and the hope to conclude FTA with Bimstec soon, India will complete the three pillars of economic integration with Asia, he said.