Saturday, May 06, 2006
  India moots giant free trade area
Hyderabad: India moots giant free trade area

India is working on free trade agreements with China, Japan and South Korea as part of a concerted effort to strengthen its regional ties, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said yesterday.

India's Look East policy is aimed at boosting manufacturing in Asia's third-largest economy, raising its share of global trade and creating much-needed jobs for its billion-plus people.

"India has a vital stake in the prosperity and stability of Asia," Singh told the annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad.

Trade pacts with China, Japan and Korea would come on top of existing deals with Singapore, Thailand and in South Asia, and Singh envisaged that one day a free trade area would cover all major Asian economies, and possibly Australia and New Zealand.

Singh, seen as the father of India's economic reforms because he was finance minister when its economy opened in the 1990s, sees more trade with its neighbours as a way to raise the share of manufacturing in India's GDP from just one-seventh now.

More people are moving off farms to seek work and Singh wants the production lines to soak up this surplus labour as well as the 12 million Indians who join the workforce each year.

Japanese Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki later told the ADB meeting that Tokyo was committed to boosting its solidarity with Asia and helping to tackle its development challenges.

But protesters blame the ADB itself for some of Asia's troubles. A few thousand from People's Forum Against ADB marched through Hyderabad under the baking sun, denouncing the bank for imposing tough loan conditions on governments and overriding the rights of the poor.

Warning: High oil prices to cut Asian growth ADB

High oil prices may shave off at least 0.6 percentage points from Asia's overall growth, the chief economist of the Asian Development Bank said.

"There are two aspects to the oil price increase. One is the magnitude of the increase and the second is the duration," Ifzal Ali said.

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