India, which has a concertina of tariffs that scale up to as high as 150 per cent on some products, will have to prune its levies to Asean levels — a commitment that the government has often stressed in the past with more resolve than conviction — if it wants to forge a free trade arrangement with Asean.
Sinha refused to commit to a date saying the talks were at a very nascent stage. A task force has already been set up to create a broad framework for the free trade arrangement with Asean.
“We hope that as a result of these talks a clear roadmap will emerge to create a free trade arrangement,” said Sinha who, as finance minister earlier, had been instrumental in rationalising and lowering tariffs.
However, the gripe around the world has been over the high tariff in products like cars where it ranges around 150 per cent and liquor where it scales up to around 400 per cent (not counting state levies which, if combined, would raise overall duty levels close to 700 per cent).
In contrast, duty levels on cars in China are a little over 37 per cent and the government there is committed to bringing it down to around 10 per cent. This is only one example of how far India really needs to go on the tariff front before it can create a truly workable free trade arrangement with Asean.
Sinha said the talks with Asean would also focus on security issues, especially in the light of the growing menace of global terrorism, the shadow of which fell across the region recently with the blasts in Bali last month that left over a 150 dead. India is hoping to forge a cooperative alliance with Asean in the global war against terrorism. “This will focus on intelligence sharing and a commonality of action to fight the scourge that has afflicted the world,” Sinha said.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee said terrorists were emboldened to strike soft targets in the country. The Ansal Plaza incident in Delhi yesterday where police gunned down two militants before they could strike bore testimony to the state of alertnesss and greater collaboration between the country’s intelligence and policing agencies, he said.