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‘Speed up FTA talks with GCC countries’

Financial Express, India

‘Speed up FTA talks with GCC countries’

Kamal Nath blames human resource crunch for the delay

Economy Bureau

30 May 2007

MUMBAI, MAY 29 : Serious differences surfaced between commerce minister Kamal Nath and Oman commerce minister Maqbool Ali Sultan on Tuesday over the free trade agreement (FTA) between India and GCC countries.

Nath indicated that it was taking time due to human resource problems as India has been involved in discussing FTA with various countries and said the FTA would be signed within a year.

The agreement would boost trade and investments further. Trade between India and GCC countries have increased to $23.42 billion in 2005-06 from $5.55 billion in 2000-01.

However, the Omani minister openly expressed his disappointment over the slow progress made by India on early conclusion of the FTA with GCC countries.

He said since June last year hardly one meeting has taken place between India and GCC countries on the FTA.

Sultan said India should give priority to FTA with GCC countries as these countries were India’s second important trade partners after US.

He wanted all formalities be completed by the year end and the FTA signed in 2008 when Oman would lead the GCC countries.

Nath and Sultan were speaking at the inaugural session of the GCC-India investment summit organised jointly by the ministry of external affairs minister, CII, Ficci and Gulf Cooperation Council.

Nath admitted that delays in signing the FTA with GCC countries was largely due to human resource problems as India was in the midst of finalising FTAs with various countries. However, he hoped that the FTA with GCC would be inked within a year. Sultan, however, took quite an aggressive stand and asked why India could not give priority to the FTA with GCC countries as they offer more investment opportunities. GCC countries have proposed to invest $210 billion in Asia, including India in the next couple of years.

He reiterated that the FTA should be in place by 2008 as it would pave the way for more partnership between India and GCC countries in trade and investments. Similarly, Sultan said Indian industries and businesses should aggressively market their plans to Oman and other GCC countries as the state-run companies as well as private sector companies were prepared to form joint ventures or allow 100% investments there. Sultan wanted the Indian side to visit GCC countries more often to work out concrete plans.