The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal give-and-take on trade table

Bali, Oct. 7: Breaking free from the vicious cycle of Pakistan and terrorism, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today talked business on a platform abroad.

He sold India as a prospective global financial hub on the back of a string of “revolutions”, offering a give-and-take to a powerful economic bloc in the region, the Asean.

He proposed unilateral tariff cuts to poorer nations among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which will boost their exports to India as their goods will become cheaper. The concessions will be offered on some goods from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam.

But India is also seeking an “early harvest” scheme, Vajpayee said. Such a scheme will involve asking Asean countries to unilaterally reduce tariffs early on certain agricultural items.

The Prime Minister is keen on such a sweetener as India is scheduled to sign tomorrow a framework for free trade with the Asean. The 10-member Asean groups Brunei, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore and Thailand.

Vajpayee said that if both sides stayed on course for the next four years, the trade turnover between them could cross $30 billion. In addition, a free-trade zone could be established within a decade.

Delivering his speech at the Asean summit, Vajpayee described the 21st century as the Asian century and urged the bloc to work closely with India to take advantage of this opportunity.

Vajpayee said there has been a “psychological revolution” in India in which “a defensive, introverted approach has given way to an outward-looking, self-confident attitude, willing to accept challenges and take risks, rejecting fear and shunning fatalism”.

He advised investors to keep in mind that the size and diversity of India were unique. “Marketing of investment strategies that may have worked well elsewhere may need to be tailored differently for India.”

Vajpayee’s speech came after those by his Chinese and Japanese counterparts and the South Korean President.

India, along with the three, has been invited by Asean for a dialogue at the heads of government level.

The Prime Minister was quick to remind the Asean members that the financial crisis in the region six years ago did not touch India. But what made Vajpayee’s speech unique was his stress not only on the economic changes, but how they were effecting socio-economic changes in India.

“India is today a country on the move. We are experiencing many revolutions,” Vajpayee said.

He observed how the infotech revolution has unleashed a socio-cultural revolution, which has empowered hundreds of millions of Indians and is “strengthening our democracy and stimulating our creativity”.

“We are experiencing a demographic revolution, where the number of young people are increasing,” Vajpayee pointed out.

He said over 54 per cent of Indians today are under 25 years, which has triggered a “revolution of expectations” in which a “powerful new force of young people, full of optimism and ambition and fired by boundless energy, is seeking opportunities”.

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