Indo-Thai FTA To Be Free Of Products Of Mutual Interest

New Delhi, July 30: | Updated: Jul 31 2003, 05:30am hrs
India and Thailand have decided to exclude all products from the proposed free trade agreement (FTA) which might create problems for the domestic industry of the two countries.

Speaking to FE, Dr Ram Upendra Das, member of the joint negotiating group between India and Thailand for drafting a framework agreement, said it had been decided by both sides that the tariff concessions provided by the countries would be aimed at promoting competitiveness and trade flow without affecting domestic interests.

Dr Das, who is with the Research and Information System (RIS) for developing and non-aligned countries and was also part of the joint working group constituted to undertake a feasibility study for the FTA, said that intense research had been undertaken in both countries to identify sensitive products.

The decision has been taken to avoid flooding of markets with goods which adversely impact domestic manufacturers as has happened with vanaspati in case of Nepal and tea in case of Sri Lanka.

Areas where both countries have common trade interests and where tariff concessions may not be provided include software, automobile components and precious stones.

To build on the areas of common strength, the countries have decided to cooperate in identified sectors to increase total exports. The areas identified by the joint working group for future cooperation include fisheries and aquaculture, information technology and communication, space technology, bio-technology, tourism, infrastructure development, healthcare services and construction.

Trade between India and Thailand currently stands at $1 billion. According to Dr Das, the proposed FTA could result in multiple growth of trade between the two countries as the present levels were much lower than the existing potential. If one sits down to calculate the growth in trade the FTA would result it, the figure could be mind-boggling, he said.

Dr Das said one of the reasons for the existing low level of trade was that even for products where the countries could directly gain by importing from the other, the imports were taking place from other countries.

To explore trade possibilities between the two countries better, the idea of an FTA was mooted during the visit of the Thai Prime Minister to India in November 2001.

With the negotiating group on drafting the framework agreement having almost finished its work, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is expected to sign the framework FTA when he visits Thailand in October. Dr Das said that the FTA would be implemented in various stages over the next few years.

The visit of Thailands deputy prime minister Dabbaransi Korn to India next week is supposed to be a prelude to the framework agreement. Mr Korn is expected to meet both commerce minister Arun Jaitley and minister of state for commerce SB Mookherjee besides meeting senior officials from the commerce ministry.