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Thaksin asks India to speed up FTA deal

Bangkok Post

Thaksin asks India to speed up FTA deal

MoU on education cooperation signed

5 June 2005

By Dinesh C. Sharma

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra stressed speeding up the process of finalising the Free Trade Area agreement between Thailand and India during his one-day working visit to the Indian capital on Friday.

Soon after arrival in the afternoon on the hottest day of India’s summer season, Mr Thaksin had a working lunch with a select group of Indian industrialists and business representatives at a five-star hotel in the city.

It was an informal meeting on the items to be included in the early harvest scheme (EHS), a precursor to the FTA.

Mr Thaksin was keen to go ahead and expand the list and wanted suggestions from India on how to speed up the process, a representative of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry said after the meeting. It was suggested that chambers of commerce and trade bodies from both countries should work out the list of items that can be included in the EHS which already has 82 items. Finalisation of the FTA, which was earlier slated for March 2005, has been delayed because of differences on products that should be kept out. The Indian side has suggested some 1,000 items for the negative list, while the Thai side has given a list of just 100 items.

Besides a meeting with industrialists, Mr Thaksin had a separate meeting with Ratan Tata, chairman of the Tata group which has diversified interests ranging from steel to telecoms and automotive products.

Since it was a working visit, there was no ceremonial reception and official banquet. Mr Thaksin met his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh at his residence over dinner. Besides a review of bilateral, regional and international issues, the two leaders discussed security cooperation, trade and economic relations.

One concrete fallout of the visit was the signing of a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in the field of education. India’s Minister for Human Resources Development Arjun Singh and Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkon signed the agreement in the presence of the two prime ministers.

The MoU is a broad framework under which to foster collaboration in the education sector. Institutions of the two countries will work out details later. The areas of cooperation would cover exchange of research materials, teaching aids and information; joint conferences, exhibitions and seminars; joint research programmes, training programmes for educational administrators, educators and teachers; exchange of academic personnel and other administrators; exchange of scholars, teachers, experts, persons with local wisdom and students; twinning arrangements between institutions of higher learning; promoting and developing bilateral programmes between institutions of educational excellence in technical, vocational and higher education; examining the possibility of mutual recognition of educational qualifications; and providing mutual assistance in the field of information technology, computer science, mathematics and science. Mr Thaksin said he proposed a joint working group be set up to draft an action plan for the FTA agreement, aviation liberalisation and security-related issues.

On education, he proposed India open the education market in Thailand by setting up universities in the country. He praised India for its education standards, particularly in the engineering and IT technology fields. India could produce 120,000 computer software engineers a year.

Mr Thaksin and his delegation left India for Bhutan yesterday.