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Pitch for South Asia rail network

Agra, Jan. 27: India is likely to pitch for a freight and passenger rail link traversing Afghanistan, Pakistan, its own territory and Bangladesh at the CII Annual Partnership Summit tomorrow.

The plan may not receive the support of Pakistan, which has long objected to a trans-Asian rail and road network and had denied Indian truckers the rights to pass through its territory to Afghanistan.

Commerce minister Anand Sharma will hold talks with his counterparts from Bangladesh and Afghanistan, who are here for the three-day summit, which started today.

However, with Pakistan commerce minister Makh-doom Muhammad Amin Fahim giving the summit a miss, it needs to be seen how far the rail proposal can progress. Business leaders and ministers from 83 countries are attending the meet.

Sharma will also discuss developing regional energy infrastructure and connectivity grids. India, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan together are estimated to have hydro-power potential of more than 200 gigawatt, three-fourth of which is yet to be harnessed.

New Delhi plans to invest more than $1 trillion in infrastructure over the next five years.

Sharma will discuss with delegates steps to make trade and cross-border investment flows easier.

He said India would try to conclude the comprehensive free trade agreement (FTA) with the European Union (EU) soon.

“We are negotiating a large number of free trade agreements with a number of countries. The Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement with the EU is just on the verge of completion,” he said.

India and the EU, its biggest trading partner, are in talks since 2007 to liberalise trade in goods, services and investment. The FTA will involve the slashing of duties on over 90 per cent of the tradable items and opening up of the markets for services and investment.

The two sides had agreed to conclude the negotiations within 2011. However, difference arose on key issues such as the opening up of markets in auto and auto components, wines and spirits, and intellectual property.

Sharma said the global economic situation was fragile and the world faced a heightened risk of going into a double-dip recession.

“Latest projections indicate that this year, the growth will be weak at 3.5 per cent, almost at the same level as last year (3.2 per cent),” he said.

Sharma said India’s GDP growth was set to accelerate with the share of manufacturing going up to 26 per cent from 16 per cent in the next 10 years.

The minister said the government had approved 12 national manufacturing and investment zones. The national manufacturing policy provides for NMIZs. NMIZs will be mega industrial zones with world-class infrastructure.

 
 
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