Hindustan Times, India
India-GCC free trade pact likely by year-end
Indo-Asian News Service
8 March 2006
New Delhi - India and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are likely to finalise a free trade agreement (FTA) in goods by year-end, a senior official said on Wednesday.
"We hope to finalise the GCC-India FTA in goods by year-end though similar agreements in investment and services will take time as the GCC member countries are still to harmonise their rules in these two areas," said MVPC Sastry, joint secretary in the ministry of commerce and industry at a briefing ahead of the second GCC-India Industrial Conference at Muscat March 25-26.
Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates make up GCC.
Ahead of the Muscat meet, Sastry will lead an Indian technical team to Riyadh March 21-22 for talks with the GCC secretariat on the FTA.
"This will be the first round of technical negotiations with the GCC secretariat and we hope to be able to work closely on FTA in goods and resolve issues like greater market access and removal of non-tariff barriers both for Indian goods to the region and the GCC goods to India," said Sastry.
Hilal bin Hammed Al Hasani, director general of Oman’s ministry of commerce and industry said the FTA would greatly help boost flow of investments besides trade.
"It will provide an appropriate climate for trade exchanges and communication on global trade," he maintained.
Saying that the GCC countries were keen to work closely with India not only for boosting bilateral trade but also for "consolidation of partnership" in technology transfer and research and development, Al Hasani said the Muscat conference would focus on these areas.
A large Indian business delegation is expected to accompany Commerce Minister Kamal Nath for the Muscat meet.
The two-day meet would follow up on the progress since the first GCC-India meet held in Mumbai in 2002, which was followed up by the signing of a framework agreement on the roadmap for cooperation.
It will also discuss three major issues: bilateral trade, investment and services with major focus on tourism and joint ventures in industry and energy, besides IT, biotechnology, petrochemicals and small and medium enterprises.
The GCC is also looking at technology transfer and research collaboration with India in various areas to reduce the region’s reliance on the West for technology inputs, said Al Hasani.
"The Gulf states currently import technology from Western countries and see the need to boost their own research and development. India could assist us in this," he added.
According to the official, Indian labourers are around 36 per cent of expatriate Asians working in the GCC countries. Together the GCC countries account for 2.5 million of the around 4.0 million Indians working in the Arab countries.
AC Patankar, principal adviser to the Confederation of Indian Industry, said that in the last 15 years, the flow of investment from the Gulf region to India has not been very substantial compared to the Indian investment in the region. It is only in the last couple of years that there has been some change.