Immediate review of India-ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement to help realise trade potential: Puri

Union Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Tuesday made a case for immediate review of the India-ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement and said it would help realise the true bilateral trade potential between India and the 10-member nation bloc of Southeast Asian countries.

“The review of the India-ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement is pending.

“An immediate review of the agreement and the effective utilisation of the ASEAN-India Free Trade Agreement will contribute to the realisation of our 2020 trade target of USD 200 billion set by both parties,” the Minister of State for Commerce and Industry said.

The minister added that he believes the FTA review will provide the partners the opportunity to further unlock potential.

The proposed scope of the review of the free-trade agreement (FTA) between India and ASEAN could include issues like customs procedures, further liberalisation of trade in goods and exchange of data, Parliament was informed in November last year.

The ASEAN-India Trade in Goods Agreement was signed on August 13, 2009, and came into force on January 1, 2010.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a regional intergovernmental organisation comprising 10 Southeast Asian countries. It aims to promote intergovernmental cooperation and facilitates economic, political, security, military, educational, and socio-cultural integration among its members and other Asian states.

The ASEAN members are Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, The Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, Brunei and Laos.

According to the minister, both India and ASEAN need to redouble their efforts towards strengthening cooperation in services sectors such as e-commerce, IT-enabled services, financial services, banking and tourism.

“I think we have to find ways and means of ensuring that the ASEAN economies are equally welcoming of and receptive to exports from India as we are to imports from the ASEAN economies,” said the minister.

Puri highlighted that a significant component of the bilateral trade engagement between India and the ASEAN countries is in the medium and high technology-intensive trade. In 2018, 40.6 per cent of imports and 28.8 per cent of exports from India to ASEAN were in this product category.

“India”s annual trade deficit with ASEAN is close to USD 24 billion. The reasons are multiple and I would like in the coming months and years to see this trade deficit narrowed,” said the minister at a virtual conference organised by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

Puri pointed out that there is a range of non-tariff barriers, import regulations, quotas and export taxes.

Expressing confidence that India and the ASEAN region will emerge “much stronger” by overcoming challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the minister said we need to prepare for the fact that this may not be the last public health emergency faced by us.

Noting that “we must brace ourselves for a situation that further pandemics may come”, the minister said adding that we should make sure to learn lessons from the ongoing pandemic which will stand us in good stead in the years to come.

Puri, also the civil aviation minister, said over 1 million stranded Indians have been benefitted from the Vande Bharat Mission.

“We are carrying out Vande Bharat flights to bring back Indians stranded in countries abroad, and in spite of all the restrictions and the difficulty of navigating through the COVID-19 terrain, we have brought back over 1 million,” he added.

The minister stated that digital technologies such as e-commerce, financial technology, artificial intelligence and blockchain held the maximum promise for collaboration between India and the countries in the IORA (Indian Ocean Rim Association) region.

In his address, Seang Thay, Secretary of State, Ministry of Commerce, Royal Government of Cambodia, said India and Cambodia have a long history of cooperation and his government is now seeking to enter into a bilateral FTA with India.

Senator Datuk Lim Ban Hong, deputy minister, Ministry of International Trade and Industry, Malaysia, called for greater cooperation between Malaysia and the ASEAN region, especially in sectors such as digital economy and e-commerce, connectivity, and food and agriculture.

U Aung Htoo, deputy minister, Ministry of Commerce, Republic of the Union of Myanmar, called for greater cooperation in agriculture and food processing and e-commerce and digitisation.

He said the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership needs to be concluded as soon as possible, and invited India to re-join the negotiation process.

Suresh Prabhu, India”s sherpa to G20 & G7, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi has changed the dimension of India”s Look East policy, making it far more strategic. “We need to look at the region as a new hub of growth integrating ASEAN and Oceanic countries with a strong focus on integrated logistics development, opening new routes and connectivity, both digital and infrastructure.”

He added that ASEAN countries would be drivers of economic growth in the region.