New Delhi, Nov. 15: Within days of the first Asean-India summit level talks in Phnom Penh, the country’s most influential chamber—the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)—has taken the lead by proposing to open an Asean beachhead with offices in Indonesia and Malaysia. CII already has an office in Singapore.
“We look forward to cementing bilateral trade relations between India and Asean. This will help us forge long-term economic relations and facilitate our activities,” CII director-general Tarun Das told The Telegraph.
The CII offices will act as catalysts to facilitate business-to-business interaction between Indian and south-east Asian companies in the 10 member-countries of the Asean.
India proposes to work towards the creation of a free trade area with Asean over a 10-year timeframe. A working group that was formed at the meeting of finance ministers in Brunei in September has been asked to explore the viability of the proposal and suggest a roadmap for the creation of the free-trade area.
India became the fourth summit-level partner of the Asean after South Korea, Japan and China. It was virtually forced into a race with China— which has reached an agreement with Asean to create the world’s largest free trade area by 2008 that will have a combined GDP of over $ 2 trillion and a consumer base of over 1.8 billion.
“Now that there’s talk of creating a free trade area with Asean, we need to promote people-to-people contact and carry out detailed sectoral work in the different Asean countries. It is also necessary to work with a clear set of guidelines and framework with local industry associations in those countries,” Dilip Chinoy, deputy director-general of CII said.
Indo-Asean trade in 2001-02 stood at $ 7.8 billion, but, as everyone admits, it does not reflect the true strengths of the two trading partners. India’s exports to Asean amounted to $ 3.5 billion while imports came to $ 4.3 billion.
India exports oilmeals, gems and jewellery, meat and meat preparations, cotton yarn, fabrics and made-ups, transport equipment, and engineering goods to Asean. It imports artificial resins, plastic material, natural rubber, wood and wood products, non-ferrous metals, electronic goods, edible oils, coal and fertilisers from the Asean.