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Surayud off on a busy India tour

Bangkok Post

Surayud off on a busy India tour, Agencies

25 June 2007

New Delhi - Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont and Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh are to sign pacts on Tuesday on energy and culture, while speeding up talks on a free trade deal that could be signed next month.

Gen Surayud left Bangkok for India late on Monday afternoon, Thailand time.

He and Mr Singh will hold talks on a broad array of bilateral, regional and global issues, including intensification of trade and investment between the two countries, according to New Delhi reports.

They are also expected to discuss issues relating to the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, on Bimstec (the Bay of Bengal Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic) and the Mekong-Ganges Cooperation project - subregional groupings of which India and Thailand are members.

New Delhi is proud that it "has shown realism in dealing with the military dispensation in Bangkok" - fancy language for not letting the military coup and junta get in the way of affecting growing economic engagement with Thailand.

Two agreements, including a memorandum of understanding on enhanced cooperation in the field of renewable energy and the cultural programme, will be signed in the presence of the two prime ministers after the two hold formal talks.

Gen Surayud, who begins his three-day state visit to India on Monday evening, will also meet President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee and Commerce Minister Kamal Nath and discuss with them a host of bilateral and global issues.

The focus of the Thai premier’s visit, the first after the military-backed government assumed power in September last year, is predominantly economic.

Thailand is seeking active economic partnership with India built around a free trade agreement to counterbalance its growing trade with China.

He may press India to increase Bangkok-Mumbai (Bombay) and Bangkok-New Delhi flights.

Gen Surayud is expected to focus on speeding up negotiations for an FTA with a view to signing it as early as next month. If the FTA goes through, the two countries can hope to increase their current $3 billion bilateral trade by 30 per cent per year.

Gen Surayud will also address Indian business leaders at an interactive meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Gen Surayud is to visit New Delhi and Kolkata (Calcutta). In addition, the Buddhist premier will go to the Hindu holy city of Varanasi and nearby Srinath where Lord Buddha first unveiled his discourses on enlightenment.