India ready to join ASEAN free trade agreement

NEW DELHI, May 22, 2006 (AFP) – India has agreed to cut tariffs on a basket of products to pave way for the implementation of a proposed free trade argreement (FTA) with Southeast Asia, a report said Monday. The agreement between India and the 10-member ASEAN is scheduled to come into effect on January 1, 2007 but there were differences between the two sides over tariffs on a list of mostly agricultural items.

The number of products excluded from tariff reductions has been cut to 850 from the 1,414 India had originally proposed to ASEAN, The Economic Times said Monday.

There was no official confirmation by the government.

The newspaper said a high-level panel — headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — which gave a nod to the FTA also proposed tariff-rate quotas for certain goods over concerns that the pact will hurt Indian farmers.

The quotas will be imposed on the import of palm oil from Malaysia and Indonesia and of tea, coffee, and pepper from Vietnam.

The report said Singh’s Trade and Economic Relations Committee, which studied the proposal, concluded that India would lose out on major economic gains by not going ahead with the FTA.

ASEAN already has negotiated a free trade de