Look East! Just keep looking.

India should shed its ambiguity on free-trade

The primary objective of India’s Look East policy must be to improve trade. But the confused coalition government is quite ambiguous on what it intends to do with bilateral free-trade agreements (FTAs) which have gained currency given the inability of the WTO to resolve the deadlock between the developed and developing countries – starting with ‘A’ for Agricultural subsidies. That new government has remains undecided on how to proceed with the India-Singapore CECA after the negotiating teams all but completed their work is a shame.

So, where does this leave Goh? Well, Manmohan Singh has told him that “he philosophically supports FTA-plus” but his is a coalition government and “he has to persuade the others to come along.” As for Kamal Nath, Maran’s successor in the commerce minister’s job (Arun Shourie and Arun Jaitley were in between) CECA and FTA-plus is a bit of a mystery. As Nath told Goh, had it not been for the summit visit, “he wouldn’t have even opened the document.”[FE]

India is at a risk of being straitjacketed by the dogma of the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) document. Instead of allowing it to circumscribe the government’s actions, Manmohan Singh’s government must be bold enough to interpret it creatively to drive the economic reform programme.