India ASEAN update
India is pushing Asean to conclude negotiations on liberalising services and investment by December after signing a trade pact for goods with the 10-country south-east Asian bloc last Thursday. The agreement will facilitate a smoother movement of professionals and enhance flow of investments. India wants talks on both the issues to be wrapped up by the end of the year so that the agreements on liberalising goods, services and investments could be implemented simultaneously from January 1, 2010, a senior government official said. India and the Association of South-East Asian Nations, or Asean, signed a free-trade agreement (FTA) on August 13 in Bangkok after six years of negotiations. In the Asean ministerial meeting, India had stressed the need to conclude the talks on services and investment by the end of the year. Some Asean members were doubtful that the agreement can be finalised in four months, but India insisted that the effort has to be made. India is trying to organise a meet on services and investment in New Delhi next month and has proposed that a review meeting on the progress could take place during the Asean Summit in Phuket in October. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is expected to attend the summit and will be accompanied by commerce & industry minister Anand Sharma. “We are hopeful that we will be able to fast-track the discussions on services and investment,” the official said. India is interested in liberalising cross-border movement of services that includes BPO services and free movement of professionals through easing of visa restrictions and mutual recognition of qualifications. A large number of Malaysians and Singaporeans can understand English and would immediately provide job opportunities to Indian professionals. Certain Asean countries, including Malaysia and Thailand, have a small population and the demand for professionals is high, the official added. The domestic industry, including the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry and CII, believes that a lot of opportunities for professionals in education, healthcare, accountancy and architecture, among others, exist in south-east Asia. India also expects investments from Asean to increase following liberalisation of bilateral rules.