India, Thailand want FTA ‘at the earliest’

Bangkok, May 30 (IANS) Emphasizing that both countries stand to benefit from increased trade, the prime ministers of India and Thailand Thursday directed their respective ministers to work out the India-Thailand Free Trade Agreement “at the earliest”.

Stating that the trade and investment levels between both countries were yet to reach their full potential, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is on his first bilateral visit to Thailand, said: “We have directed our ministers to quickly resolve the few outstanding issues to achieve a comprehensive and balanced India-Thailand Free Trade Agreement at the earliest.”

“We would like to see enhanced presence of Indian and Thai companies in each other’s markets, especially as both countries are planning massive investments in infrastructure over the next five years,” he said.

M<anmohan Singh said connectivity projects by sea and land will further deepen linkages and cooperation between India and Southeast Asia.

“They will support economic development and reinvigorate historic cultural and spiritual links in the region, especially in northeastern India.”

India will work together with Myanmar to ensure completion of the trilateral highway project by 2016 and pursue development of other corridors, he added.

manmohan Singh complimented Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra “for the momentum that she has imparted to our relationship, especially since her visit to India in January 2012 as our honoured chief guest for the Republic Day”.

Last year, bilateral trade between Thailand and India crossed $8.6 billion. Over the past five years, trade increased at over 15 percent per annum.

Manmohan Singh, who arrived here Thursday after concluding his three-day oficial visit to Japan, said India attached high importance to its relationship with Thailand.

“We have just completed a very meaningful, productive and satisfying discussion on bilateral, regional and global issues of common interest. We have agreed to maintain the momentum of regular high level dialogue. In the coming months, India’s defence Minister, commerce and industry minister and external affairs minister will be travelling to Bangkok,” he stated.

“We are neighbours, linked by millennia-old ties of culture and civilization. Our cooperation is growing in multiple dimensions – in defence and security, trade and investment, science and technology, education, culture and tourism – and each area holds enormous potential,” he said.

The prime minister said Thailand was “the springboard for India’s engagement with Southeast and East Asia and remains the vital link in our Look East Policy and our strategic partnership with ASEAN”.

He said the signing of the extradition treaty and a memorandum on cooperation in anti-money laundering and terrorism financing would send a “major signal of our shared commitment to combating terrorism, organised crime, drug trafficking and counterfeiting”.

Manmohan Singh said both countries had agreed to continue strengthening defence relations, including through exchanges, exercises and joint patrolling.

“Today we have taken one more giant step in pursuit of closer cooperation, stronger connectivity and greater commerce. We have resolved to strengthen our bilateral engagement and advance maritime security in our region,” he said.

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