Free trade not to affect Kerala farmers: Kamal Nath

August 29th, 2008 - 10:18 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Aug 29 (IANS) Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath Friday dispelled worries of Kerala farmers stating that free trade agreement (FTA) for goods with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) will not adversly hit them as claimed by the Left ruling coalition in the southern state.”They (the ruling coalition in Kerala) do not know what they are opposing… they are not being informed correctly,” he replied when asked to comment on the Kerala government’s opposition to the agreement concluded in Singapore Thursday.

Kamal Nath said applied duty on palm oil is now zero percent but under the FTA it will be 37.5 percent in 2018, and wondered why they are not in favour of the agreement.

Commerce Secretary Gopal Pillai said rubber, all spices except pepper, coconut and fish and fish products are all in the 489-strong negative list and, therefore, Kerala farmers have nothing to fear.

The formal pact will be signed this December at the India-Asean summit at Bangkok, which is expected to be attended by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Implementation of the FTA, which begins from Jan 1, 2009, will be completed by 2018, the Minister said, adding gradual and calibrated reduction in 585 tariff lines will have minimal impact on domestic producers.

Stating that domestic players were consulted, Kamal Nath said: “All 11 nations to the agreement are to reduce-eliminate tariffs on more than 90 percent of the tariff lines in a gradual manner by 2018, adding nearly 80 percent of it will be accomplished by 2012.”

India, he said, cannot get isolated in the region as China and Japan are fully engaged with the Asean trading bloc.

“We need east Asian markets as our manufacturing capabilities are increasing,” the minister added.

He said all parties to the agreement can maintain negative lists of a maximum of 489 tariff lines and imports under these tariff lines are not to exceed five percent of the total bilateral imports.

India will keep five products - crude palm oil, refined palm oil, black tea, pepper and coffee on highly sensitive list, Kamal Nath added.

India-Asean trade, which was $38.37 billion in 2007-08, is projected to reach $48 billion this year, the minister said.

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