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Trade pace balance

Bangkok, Oct. 10: Trying to balance foreign investors’ demand for urgent removal of trade restrictions and domestic business lobbies’ attempt to protect the Indian market, Atal Bihari Vajpayee today urged the two sides to strike a “mutually convenient” pace to proceed.

India and Thailand signed a framework agreement on a free trade area (FTA) yesterday. This morning, the Prime Minister tried to infuse the confidence shown by the two governments into the business communities.

“The FTA agreement will eliminate some of the major barriers to trade and investment,” he told a meeting of Indian and Thai chambers of commerce. “We have worked out an early harvest programme for immediate tariff reductions for some products. We have to expand on this.”

Reflecting the concerns of businessmen, he continued: “I am aware there will always be those who are not satisfied with the pace of our bilateral tariff reductions. Businessmen will find such measures too slow or too fast, depending on their interests. For some, tariffs can never be low enough, for others, they can never be high enough.”

This was a “delicate problem of balance”, he said. “We will have to find a mutually convenient pace to move forward.”

Vajpayee’s remarks gather significance in the light of Thai deputy Prime Minister Kom Dabbaransi’s comment that Bangkok was a little disappointed with the trade barriers.

Thai business community representatives also suggested Delhi should extend its dual citizenship proposal — offered to people of Indian origin in the US and western countries — to Southeast Asia. Commerce minister Arun Jaitley assured them the Centre would consider the matter.

Vajpayee said despite the commonalities between the countries, their trade and investment figures — around $1 billion — were not impressive. Indian investment in Thailand is $1 billion and that country’s only about $700 million.

But he said he was pleased with the change in attitude, particularly the “confluence” of India’s Look East policy with that of Thailand’s Look West policy. The partnership was “not solely economic”, he said.

“We are located astride the sea lanes for energy supplies from West Asia to markets in the east. Therefore, we have a common stake in peace, security and markets in this region.

“We also have important interests in regional and sub-regional cooperation. These perspectives can result in significant spin-offs for business. The India-Myanmar-Thailand highway project is one such example.”

Vajpayee pointed out that a deeper economic engagement would be mutually beneficial.

“Thailand can be India’s commercial bridge to Southeast Asia, while India provides Thailand a huge domestic market and a low-cost, high-skill manufacturing base for Thai businesses for their global access.”

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