India, Thailand Aim For Free Trade By June

Commerce ministers met and are optimistic that talks on a free trade agreement can be concluded by June.

NEW DELHI (AP) - India and Thailand hope to conclude talks on a free trade agreement by June, a deal they said would more than double two-way trade to $10 billion by 2010.

Top trade officials from both sides met in the Indian capital, for the first time since a military coup in Thailand last September, to review progress on the proposed free trade pact.

''We are looking at the end of June,'' Indian Commerce Minister Kamal Nath said after meeting with his Thai counterpart, Krikkrai Jirapaet, referring to the timeframe for signing an agreement.

''There are sensitivities of both the countries that need to be adequately addressed,'' Nath said, without elaborating.

Trade between the two countries rose 20 percent or more annually over the past four years and is expected to total $4 billion this year, said Gopal Pillai, the top bureaucrat at India's commerce ministry.

A free trade pact will increase trade to $10 billion by 2010, Pillai said.

Both sides signed a framework agreement in 2003 and have since enforced a zero-duty structure for 84 items of export and import.

But negotiations on a detailed free trade pact, which includes identifying more products for zero duty and easing restrictions on investment flows, were delayed because of resistance from some industry groups in India and the change of political regime in Bangkok.

Some Indian industries such as rubber producers want the government to keep their products outside the free trade pact, saying the Indian market would be swamped with cheap rubber imports from Thailand. There has also been a sharp rise in import of some plastic products and such electronic components as picture tubes for television.

India is offering zero duty on 80 percent of some 5,200 tariff lines it currently levies, Pillai said. Thailand, however, wants more, he said.

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