KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 19 (PTI): India yesterday offered new tariff concessions covering more than 90 per cent of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations's (ASEAN) exports to New Delhi in a bid to accelerate the slow moving ASEAN-India FTA talks.
"Earlier we had offered tariff reductions for 69 per cent of the items and now it has been raised to 94.6 per cent," Gopal K Pillai, Special Secretary Ministry of Commerce and Industry, told newsmen after talks with economic officials from the ASEAN here.
Pillai is also the head of India's delegation to the economic officials meeting.
He said India has offered to substantially reduce import duty on some highly sensitive products which were of significant export interest to certain ASEAN members.
These were refined palm oil from 90 per cent to 60 per cent, Crude palm oil from 80 per cent to 50 per cent, black tea from 100 per cent to 50 per cent and pepper from 70 per cent to 50 per cent.
India at the morning talks highlighted that its revised offer provided preferential market access of 95 per cent to 100 per cent for seven ASEAN members and of 85 per cent or more for the other three members.
"However, the Asean is yet to table details of their liberalisation proposal under the India-ASEAN FTA nor given us any country-wise offer list," Pillai noted.
He hoped that this would be done as soon as possible. "If our offers today does not kickstart the FTA we don't know what will," quipped Pillai
Under the new offer, India trimmed down its list of items that it wants excluded from the pact to 560 goods covering only 5.4 per cent of ASEAN's exports, Pillai said after talks with the ASEAN officials.
A few months ago India had brought down the list to 850 from 1,440 last year. ASEAN had protested India had too many items on its exclusion list.
"Overall the ASEAN countries welcomed India's forward movement. However, some countries wanted India to be more liberal in tariff cuts," the official said, adding Malaysia, a major palm oil producer, wanted further tariff cuts on palm oil as against the 50 per cent India has proposed.
Earlier tariffs on palm oil was 90 per cent now it is 80 per cent for refined palm oil and 70 per cent for crude palm oil. This will be brought down to 50 per cent for refined palm oil under the tariff reduction plan.
"Tariff is not a problem. India needs palm oil and will continue to import from these countries but New Delhi's concern is also its farmers. Its tariffs will be designed to protect its farmers," Pillai said.
"ASEAN has said the tariff reduction is too long for some products, we are open to negotiations," Pillai said, dismissing reports made by a Filipino trade official that India was worried that tariff cuts would result in a political fallout and see an increase in poor farmers committing suicide.
"These views are so lopsided and far from the truth," the official said.
Meanwhile, India yesterday made a last ditch effort to revive negotiations on a free trade pact with ASEAN through a new proposal that covers tariff rebates on over 90 per cent of the ten-nation bloc's exports, even as a panel chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave the go-ahead for carrying the talks forward.
The Trade and Economic Relations Committee(TERC), chaired by Singh, gave the green signal this evening to take negotiations forward, signalling New Delhi's willingness to move ahead in concluding the FTA by the end of this year.
Commerce Minister Kamal Nath will participate in a ministerial-level meeting in Kuala Lumpur next week in a bid to accelerate the slow moving India-ASEAN FTA talks.
Nath told reporters that some corrective steps were required to put talks back on track and hoped that the trade pact would come into being from January next year.
The TERC nod came even as senior Indian Commerce Ministry officials presented a new offer in Kuala Lumpur early Friday to kickstart the negotiations.