| Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with Asian Development Bank president Haruhiko Kuroda in Hyderabad on Friday. (AFP)
Hyderabad, May 5: India today said it is working on free trade pacts with China, Japan, Korea and Asean and called on Asian states to enlarge this into a pan-Asian free trade area.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told a gathering of finance ministers, bankers and business leaders of Asia, “We have concluded FTAs with Saarc, Singapore and Thailand and are working on similar arrangements with Asean, Japan, China and South Korea.
“This web of engagements can herald in an eventual free trade area in Asia covering all major Asian economies and possibly extend to Australia and New Zealand. This pan-Asian FTA could be the future of Asia and will, I am certain, open up new growth avenues for our own economy.”
Singh’s observation bears testimony to how much Gunnar Myrdal’s Asia has progressed in a matter of four decades. In 1968, when Myrdal was writing Asian Drama: An inquiry into the poverty of nations, his message was that the only way to bring about rapid development in Southeast Asia was to control population, have a wider distribution of agricultural land and invest in health care and education.
The Prime Minister’s comments come a few months after India joined an east Asian grouping and when Asean nations are taking tentative steps towards a common currency.
Singh, who was speaking at the annual general meeting of the Asian Development Bank, also sought a comprehensive security framework, which could guarantee unhindered economic development in the region.
“Our region needs a comprehensive framework of security that will ensure that the process of economic development is not derailed by the threat of terrorism, the threat to our environment and the threat to our energy security, food security and security of livelihood.”
The call for a broad regional security arrangement comes in the wake of fears that the US may lead a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, disrupting oil supplies as well as renewing terror strikes in India and elsewhere in Asia.
Manmohan Singh’s plans for a pan-Asian free trade area found favour with ADB president, Haruhiko Kuroda, a well known Japanese economist who was the special adviser to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
“Imagine an Asia-wide economic community. A community of nations where borders are fully open to trade and investment ' An Asian community that offers competitive, complimentary markets for the benefit of its members,” said Kuroda.
Singh’s address was followed by a meeting of the board of governors of the ADB. Top finance ministry officials who attended the meeting said Singh’s proposals found favour with several Asean delegations as well as the Japanese.