The Asean India Business Council (AIBC), a major regional group representing one of the biggest consumer markets in Asia, has presented a 14-point agenda of issues that needed to be resolved to enhance commerce and ease the flow of trade, to the economic ministers of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).

Calling for close relations and opening of trade between the north-eastern states of India and the Asean countries, the AIBC had a close-door meeting with Nirmala Sitharaman, the Union minister of state for commerce and industry, and proposed to send a business delegation in September to the north-eastern states of India starting with Assam.

The visit was proposed by Habib Mohammed Chowdhury, chairman of the AIBC Laos during an earlier meeting of the Council. The AIBC members unanimously accepted the proposal and informed their willingness towards co-operation with the visiting Indian minister.

Nirmala Sitharaman requested a comprehensive consultation for tariff and non-tariff barriers between Asean and India and said that all issues should be addressed and flagged out before the next round of discussions of the AEM-India.

She said inputs from particular industries, which have access to the Asean market, should be given a larger capsule in the detailed study “to help us understand what others will encounter in the next 15 to 20 years.”

“India’s ‘Look East Policy’ has transformed into ‘Act East Policy’ and we are more determined to accelerate the economic growth between India and Asean in a bilateral and multilateral environment. Asean and India together, with a population of 1.8 billion and a combined GDP of $3.8 trillion today, has emerged significantly with huge potential,” Nirmala Sitharaman said.

Submitting the 14-point agenda of issues that needed to be resolved to enhance commerce and ease the flow of trade, the AIBC said, “The set of recommendations are aimed at strengthening economic ties and smoothening businesses between Asean and India as well as facilitating a consultative process to address the issues that stand in the way for deepening our economic engagement.”

The AIBC recommendations were intended to consolidate “mutually beneficial economic engagements between India and the Asean region.” Council members finalized their recommendations after consultative meetings held in New Delhi on July 13 and in Vientiane on August 6.

AIBC co-chairs Harshvardhan Neotia (India) and Dato’ Ramesh Kodammal (ASEAN) besides chairman of Laos Chapter of AIBC, Habib Mohammed Chowdhury, leading the delegation. Asean member countries include Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

AIBC asked that the Asean India Transit Transport Agreement (AITTA) should be finalized before the completion of the Trilateral Highway and a separate negotiation undertaken for the India-Myanmar-Thailand transit and transport agreement, which could later be extended to cover the entire Asean region.

It proposed special arrangements for visas of AIBC members to encourage business and people-to-people exchange such as an India-Asean Travel Card for bona-fide travellers from India to Asean.

On movement of skilled workers, the AIBC proposed a simpler system to facilitate intra-region transfers between India and the Asean.

To promote trade, investment and manufacturing ties, the AIBC suggested that the AEM set up the Asean Trade Fair as an annual event to be held in Asean and India.

It said the trade fair in Asean could rotate with the presidency and the first one could be held in Manila to coincide with the AEM meeting in 2017 and India could be invited as a guest country.

“Such fairs bring buyers and sellers together without the necessity of each company travelling to different destinations to meet the possible business partner,” the AIBC said.

AIBC also called for a review of the Asean-India Trade in Goods Agreement and consider liberalization of tariffs on products placed in the Sensitive Track and Exclusion List, which are excluded from tariff concessions.

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